Written by Jason Normore
Crack your eyes open.
Scrounge to find the right clothes.
Run to catch the bus.
I studied Theology during my undergrad, and as part of the program, we were expected to be present at a church to sing, pray, listen and learn something. I opted for the easy option: whatever church the school was sending a bus to.
I was creeping up on turning twenty at the time, and a new follower of Jesus. My imagination warmed up easily to God but had a harder time warming up to organized mega-church. I attended mostly out of obligation, eventually discovering all that is wonderful about church—but I did not let that process happen easily.
One Sunday, the school group was heading up to the nose-bleeds. I was in a hoodie and baseball cap, lagging behind everybody to get there. I saw a middle-aged greeter shaking the hands of my friends as they passed to find a seat and I was ready for the “good morning” formality. We locked hands, I mumbled good morning and tried to keep walking. However, the man did not let go of my hand. Instead, I found myself hauled back until his mouth was close to my ear, so that he could whisper his disapproval to me, “Look, when you get up there, take that hat off.”
There was another time where I was followed into the bathroom by yet another middle-aged man who began to lecture me on the fact that the Bible says it is not right to wear hats when in God’s presence. Not my favourite urinal talk.
Welcome to church.
Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad to some religious folk. Maybe it’s the practice of your community, maybe it’s the practice of church greeters everywhere. But to me, it felt like they were being horrible hosts.
All that to say, in my early years of the faith, I became hyper-aware of the difference between good and bad hospitality. Working at a restaurant and serving tables all throughout my degree helped to move this inspiration along.
Fast-forward to the present day; I am a 27-year-old church planter in St. John’s, Newfoundland, one of the oldest cities in North America—a city that is praised globally for its culture of hospitality.
Every time our church gathers we start with the same pattern: “Welcome to Local! We acknowledge that in this room there are some of us who are all-in on following Jesus, some of us are exploring the idea, some of us are atheists, some of us are Muslim, some of us are gay, some of us are straight. We apologize for anyone who has been hurt by the church in the past: first nations people, LGBTQS+, people who have been dragged to church as a kid, etc. Our church is inclusive, meaning everyone is welcomed to the family!”
We feel like in order to be a church in general–especially in 2018–being a good host is essential. The idea of good hospitality is threaded throughout the entire Bible, from the Garden of Eden to the New Heaven and Earth, and perhaps climaxing with the supper that Jesus hosted for his 12 apprentices. Following Jesus is a lot of things, but we believe hospitality is high on the list.
God is the most lavish and gracious host, and he invites us to participate. Once we see hosting as our invitation, it permeates every situation. What does that look like?
When you’re ordering coffee, be a good conversational host to the barista. When you’re being served, be an even better host to your waitress or waiter. When someone calls, host that call so well. In all moments of life, I think we need to know how to host and how to be a good guest.
I believe that as you learn to host, you get a better sense of God’s boundless hospitality and open invitation to his table, learning what it means to be hosted by God.
So as a church, how do we practice this? Maybe not how you think. Atmosphere, lighting, cool signs, all that has its place—but we keep it simple.
We share food.
We give each other hugs before handshakes.
We compliment each other.
We listen to each other.
We share stories.
We practice dialogue before monologue.
We invite each other over.
We party and celebrate our city and its artists.
We look each other in the eyes.
We don’t welcome or banish people for what they believe or don’t believe; what they do or don’t do.
We believe one of our first callings is to host. To the drug dealers and sex offenders, to the religious and the outsiders, you are invited and welcomed.