Hi everyone. Rob here.
In August last year David and I visited New York and went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It was a powerful experience as we immersed ourselves in the tragic event that has shaped our generation. About a block away on Broadway stands a little church called St Pauls Chapel, part of the parish of Trinity Church (the church from ‘National Treasure’!). They opened up their doors to the rescue workers, working 12 hour shifts to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. One workers said that they would leave the dust and rubble, smelly and broken, come to St Pauls “and fall into the arms of love.” Wouldn’t you love it if people said that about your church when they visited?
St Pauls practiced radical hospitality. There were no conditions, no ‘do’s’ or ‘don’ts,’ just open doors and open hearts. People would pray, sleep, eat, cry and receive a lot of hugs as they processed the horror that they saw and smelt each day. There would be Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Hindus, all with their own practices and prayer habits entering the church. This would freak out most clergy and congregants but St Pauls kept loving and serving, no matter what.
Every day they held the Eucharist. They would offer the bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood, to whoever was willing to take it. That is hospitality at it most radical and most true; the offering of Christ to the beaten up and broken, the lost and the found, the believers and the unbelievers. Christ offered himself in this way and he asks us to do the same. Others may say no, they may prefer their own practices, but we keep offering, we keep extending the invitation of grace.
As I’ve reflected on St Pauls Chapel this last week I have been challenged deeply. I’ve been tired and sore as my back played up and became grumpy and terse as a result. Yet, the staff and volunteers at St Pauls retained a huge capacity for love despite their own fatigue and emotional scars. My theory is that as they took the bread and the wine, as they received Christ afresh every day, he became their strength, he filled their hearts with his love and he offered them his radical hospitality.
My prayer for us all is that as we take our place in Christ every day he will do the same for us. This world is desperate for love; unconditional, radical love. St Pauls faced a radical challenge, one I pray that we’ll never face, and they made a radical choice. They welcomed everybody and put the Eucharist meal at the centre of their practice. What looks like compromise is actually radical hospitality in the name of Jesus. It is his story that got told and his love that was experienced. Our radical hospitality will look different but I pray that it will reflect Christ just as much.