“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them a space where change can take place.” Henri Nouwen
Creating a space of grace is fundamental to radical hospitality lasting in a congregation. Serving the “least of these” can be hard and discouraging work. Sustained hospitality requires congregations recognizing that worn out leaders and church members need seasons where they can step away and rest. Also grace needs to be extended to congregants who are not ready to live out hospitality, recognizing they may or may not grow into it.
It is vital that a congregation cultivate a space of non-judgment where people who are still a little rough around the edges can come as they are and still be welcomed. It is in this space of grace that people experience belonging, God’s love, and healing–no matter what their background.
(To read how each church lives out grace, click green tabs below)
(Fresh Wind; Abbotsford, BC) In many ways, having people with disabilities as such a central part of the congregation goes a long way in creating a safe environment for everyone because it creates an atmosphere where there is very little pretention or inhibitions. Families with noisy small children, people who have never been to church, poor and homeless come to Fresh Wind and often feel safe to be who they are in this non-judgemental and unorthodox atmosphere.
(The Church at Brook Hills; Birmingham, AL) Families at Brook Hills who have adopted talk about how they experience support and understanding from not only other families who have adopted but the broader church community. Adoption is widespread enough at Brook Hills that congregants do not think twice if families are multi-racial or if a child that a fostering family drops off is different from week to week. There is a general congregational understanding around adoption that may not be present in other local churches. The families who adopt also tell of informal and formal spaces where they can be real about the struggles inherit in adoption. In the first ten or fifteen years, families that adopted internationally found support more organically through relationships with other adoptive families and Facebook formats. Five years old, with the advent of families adopting out of the foster care system, church leadership was very proactive in starting formal support groups for foster families where childcare is provided and families can come and share honestly how they are doing. Inspired by this example, an international adoption support group was started this past year by long-time members and an adoptive family.
(Northern Lighthouse Mission; Lincoln, NE) Lighthouse Mission is a church and community that ascribes to live out that balance of grace and truth by being a place of acceptance and direction. The church is built around inmates and former-inmates and this population brings a level of honesty and lack of judgment that makes the congregation feel very safe. Unlike many more mainstream churches where congregants may try to look like they have it all together, Northern Lighthouse is a place where congregants come in open about the fact that they are broken and need to encounter God as the Healer and Savior. The church leadership is also very intentional about trying to speak into people’s lives, discipling them out of destructive behavior towards the abundant life in Christ. This atmosphere of acceptance and direction also makes Northern Lighthouse a very healing place for mainstream Christians who come from church cultures that aren’t as transparent or vulerable. Life-long Christians find they too can be honest about their shortcomings and come to Jesus to find second chances and healing for their wounds.
(Grandview Calvary Baptist; Vancouver, BC) Grandview is in a very diverse and eclectic neighborhood in Vancouver where there is little that shocks its congregants that come from the neighborhood. Grandview really teaches about the value of the “least of these” and so even though there is a wide spectrum of socio-economical backgrounds, low-income and minority people generally feel welcome. As for shared life, though it is a value of the church, there is the acknowledgment that not everyone is called to this life. There is the recognition that everyone is on a journey and everyone is encouraged to play a part in shared life but this might look differently for one than it does for the other. There is also a lot of understanding for people who have been on the front lines of service and who need to pull away for a season of rest. Because the church has a strong core of leadership, there is the ability to cover for each other.
(Peace Lutheran; Tacoma, WA) At Peace Lutheran, people as different in lifestyle and paradigms as college professors and mentally ill homeless come to worship, share communion and a meal together. The leadership has cultivated an atmosphere of acceptance and love where people generally respect the “other” even though it can be challenging to understand where the other is coming from. It is a place where anything can happen in the service and people generally roll with it. If a person does cross a line and need to be talked to, they will be dealt sensitively and personally by the leadership. Being a Lutheran church, Peace has a good sabbatical structure for giving rest and care to its pastor. There is also understanding and space given to lay leaders if they need to step down from service and rest.