Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 3:2
From before Jesus’ birth, while his mother and father journeyed to Bethlehem, we Christians, like them, have been dependent on Hospitality of strangers. In Bethlehem Mary and Joseph were unable to find room in the inn and so a stable became the birthplace for the King of Kings.
Throughout the Old Testament God reminds the people of God that they are to extend care and support to the “resident alien,” the fatherless and widows, because the people of God also had once been aliens in a land and would not have survived without the generosity of the people of the lands in which they resided.
A generation ago the people of St. Matthews Church came into the church through birth and baptism. We knew each other well and ate in each other’s homes. In the 80’s and 90’s as St. Matthews grew, the people of St. Matthew’s welcomed with open arms the strangers that soon became our friends on the journey to God.
People came to a church looking for a home and we welcomed them home. Perhaps they grew up in the Episcopal Church in another part of the country, perhaps they came from another faith tradition, but we welcomed them into our homes and into our hearts. We stood beside them when they were in times of need and danced with them in moments of celebration. In this transitional moment we may be fearful about the change we face, but God remains faithful to us and holds out to us always in his heart, longing for what is best for us.
As we have become a more diverse people, the resulting changes in life and practice might not have been what we bargained for, but St. Matthew’s is a compassionate place that knows that Christ’s love extends through us to these who are now and will be in the future entrusted to our care.
In scripture through the ministry of hospitality we welcome strangers into restorative community. Henri Nouwen says, “A world of strangers estranged from their own past, culture, and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God come to us seeking a place of safety and acceptance.” As a church where hospitality is a mark of our common life, we will need to look beyond our own world in order to create space for the need of the stranger. “Hospitality,” Diana Bass says, “is the creation of a free space in which strangers become friends.” Hospitality’s task is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place graciously and kindly through Christ in us.
A church that values hospitality will value the dignity of each of its members. Standards of conformity will be of little importance, instead like Christ we will seek to welcome all with arms of love and grace. It is a risky way to run a church, but we are a missionary church whose mission extends to all God’s children wherever we find them.
St. Matthews has long understood this. We have generously invited into our midst wayfarers and strangers, refugees and retirees. We have moved them as quickly as possible into our common life. We have worked hard to maintain a safe place in which to raise our children and nurture them in faith. Hospitality requires the careful engagement of a faithful congregation that realizes how important this ministry of healing, reconciliation and grace is to God. May we continue to find ways to turn the stranger into a friend with openness and grace, providing a safe place where they can continue their pilgrimage with us to God.
The Rev. Dr. Peter B. Stube, Interim Rector