Hosting for Jesus - Hosting for All
In last month's newsletter I talked about how worship is meant to be a participatory experience, not a spectator event. Recent conversations lead me to continue in a similar vein this month.
Before training to be a minister I was senior steward at Chandlers Ford Methodist Church near Southampton. I left there for overseas mission on the Isle of Wight in 2003. At that time the church membership was in the region of 450 and the congregation was around 250 on an average Sunday morning and could be 400 or so at peak times of the year. During my time as senior steward I developed a real sense of what it meant to do all I could to 'hold in unity the life of the church' together with the other stewards and minister. It was so much more than just moving furniture around (seats, no pews) and setting the table etc. But I also realised the importance of hosting, being sure everything was ready to welcome God's family and especially to welcome guests. It was important to greet everyone with a smile. Part of the culture I encouraged in the team of stewards was that even when we were not on rota; badges should be worn so that we could be asked for help at any time and we were to pitch in if ever we saw the need. We might not have been on duty every week but we were never entirely off duty if we were present. A local preacher friend of mine would often pull my leg, that I would be clucking like a mother hen, even when it was a district or non church gathering that was not my responsibility. It was all part of watching over each other in love and serving my Lord.
In preparing to write this letter I looked at the most recent statistics and see that the church congregation last October is listed as 194 and 314 members. When I served the church it was true that a relatively small number of people did the bulk of all that was required and that even then some longstanding people had served as stewards etc. more than once. As I look at those in various roles now there are too many familiar names still doing similar roles. They may have had breaks but the same familiar few are being drawn on from what are still substantial albeit lower numbers.
Drawing on the more recent experience of my sabbatical, worshipping in an Elim Pentecostal church a few years ago, I was really struck by something their leadership team produced in a brainstorming session. Prominently in the centre of the flip chart sheet they had written on was a simple phrase, that leapt out at me and has stuck ever since as a model for church. The phrase was "Everyone as host, not guest" (I think it said "every member" not everyone, but their understanding of membership was different and was more like membership of a family i.e. those who were normally there rather than a formal understanding of membership). What struck me about that phrase was that it implied that they should be aiming for a church culture that meant everybody came expecting not to be served but to serve, not to be looked after, but to look after each other and especially those who were new to the family. It described a different and more Jesus shaped approach where if all accepted the privilege and responsibility for hosting all in turn would be welcomed, would be cared for and the load would be lightened. In that sabbatical church some people had specific roles and a larger proportion of people than usual mucked in and hosted but it was still an aim; they hadn't got there yet.
Those people who have various roles at Batley Central are too few in number and do more than many people appreciate, with some are becoming more tired or even worn out. I know none of us are getting any younger and may feel tired ourselves but if everyone did more, then for some it would mean lessening the load. Please think carefully and prayerfully about what you can offer. Speak to one of the stewards or me if there is anything you feel prompted to ask about or can offer. Imagine how the dynamics of church might be different if we are all hosting, taking care of one another, making new guests welcome, and modelling Christ's Kingdom to and for each other. And especially to those who need to experience kingdom being lived out around them and feel they are being invited to participate in Christ's Kingdom themselves.
As a steward I never tired of smiling people into the welcoming embrace of Jesus. When I finished serving in that capacity it was a habit I could not break. Kim and I still remember the encouraging warmth of welcome we received when we worshipped here on New Year's Day 2017 before we made our move. He has a purpose for all his disciples to draw others into his kingdom; how is he calling you.)