Welcome home? Hospitality as mission (Steve Taylor)

Steve TaylorSteve Taylor explores hospitality as mission.

'Welcome Home' is a song by New Zealand singer/songwriter, Dave Dobbyn. The chorus is gorgeous: 'Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts/from the bottom of our hearts… So welcome home, see I made a space for you now.' It is a song sung in response to a racist incident, in which a far right group suggested Chinese migrants were no longer welcome in New Zealand.

Which got me thinking about the church and hospitality. First, it's one thing to say 'Welcome'. Words are easy. It is quite another to move, to actually 'make a space'. This expression of hospitality is physical. The welcomer must move, must let themselves be disturbed in this act of space-making.

So all this talk about the church being hospitable, all this talk about the church being mission-shaped, must be more than words. It asks that we shift, we make changes, we let ourselves be disturbed as we explore the mixed economy and fresh expressions of church.

Second, there is a much deeper mission-shaped question around the phrase: 'Welcome home'.

I wonder what it means for the church to see itself as homeless rather than home-owner? To forget practising welcome and instead go looking for welcome?

Theologically, did Jesus ever say, 'Welcome home'?

Is it not the opposite, that in the act of incarnation, Jesus left 'home'? What about the fact that much ministry was done not in Jesus' home? Rather, Jesus constantly experienced hearing the words 'welcome home' – at Matthew's house, in Zacchaeus' place, at Mary and Martha's.

It is like Jesus is the song hearer, the migrant, not the singer.

Which makes me increasingly disturbed by a hospitality which places the church as the singer of 'welcome home'. This was the dominant ministry posture of Christendom, an era in which the church was the host and we expected the world to come to us.

Now in a post-Christendom world I hear people rifting off the Prodigal Son, the church becomes the father, waiting for the culture, which has stomped off. So if we are patient, like the Waiting Father, in time we will get to welcome the returning. 'Welcome home.'

And all the time I keep hearing the incarnation. And wondering what it means for the church to see itself as homeless rather than home-owner? To forget practising welcome and instead go looking for welcome? To make ourselves reliant on people to make space for us?

Which is certainly the heart of Luke 10.1-12, in which the disciples are sent, speaking peace, to be reliant on the welcome and hospitality of another.

Fresh expressions – Aussie style (Steve Taylor)

Steve TaylorSteve Taylor describes fresh expressions, Aussie style.

Here in South Australia as a Uniting Church, we've had a fair few overseas folk talk to us about fresh expressions and new forms of church. It's one thing to hear from international visitors; it's another to have a genuinely local conversation. So the fresh expressions task force organised 'Putting legs on the local fresh expressions of church' as an attempt to gather around an ongoing local conversation. The event was to some extent based around UK Fresh Expressions vision days but with a specific South Australian flavour.

The day kicked off with an hour introducing concepts and thinking around fresh expressions. This included discussing the 'Who?', 'What?', 'When?', 'Where?', 'Why?', 'How?', and what fresh expressions mean in light of Uniting Church.

About 25 people attended the event at Christ Church, Wayville, which was billed as a day for strategists, wonderers, sponsors and dreamers. One person drove six hours from the Eyre Peninsula to be there (it is Australia after all!). Others drove two hours from Murray Bridge or an hour from Strathalybn.

We then broke for lunch. All participants had been invited to bring local produce to share. This was a stunning success with lots of creative local flavours being offered, among them free range eggs, olives, citrus tarts and doughnuts.

It's one thing to have overseas folk talk to us about fresh expressions and new forms of church; it's another to have a genuinely local conversation

We then listened to three local fresh expressions of church tell their stories.

  • Eco-church, nine years old, meeting outdoors with a commitment to the body in worship and a desire to bless the city and think ecologically.
  • A yet-to-go public group wanting to plant a faith community in a local school, currently meeting to pray, to experiment, and to spend time being human within their local community.
  • The Esther Project, using story and alternative worship to engage the arts community.

Again, a wonderful reminder that there is some fine local 'produce' in fresh expressions. It also reminded us of the uniqueness that is fresh expressions and the ups and downs as well as the importance of experimentation and being open to change.

This was followed by time in groups to explore more of what we had heard. There were three types of conversation: the stakeholders, the dreamers, the doers, talked about what they would like to say to each other in light of fresh expressions.

Getting back together once again, we were nourished by the reminder of the diversity that is in the body of Christ and the need for us to value the vital roles of different people.

We then finished in worship led by a fourth local fresh expression: Candlelight Reflections. They had created a beautiful space for music, reflection and meditation.

Plenty more to do, but this was an enjoyable beginning.