The statistics are in! We live, on Vancouver Island, in the least Spiritual/Religious place on Turtle Island (North America). The average of those who say 'none' in census questions on Religious Affiliation is, roughly, about 35%, in the Colonially named British Columbia it is about 40%, on Vancouver Island it is 60%.
Alongside this is the fact that most of these nones are below the age of 50. These are people who have quite possibly never set foot inside a Church, or whose experience of Church has been a negative one, or who drifted away from affiliation to a Church.
For many, even those who have experienced Church, there are many negative perceptions about Church - and there are good reasons for that. Churches are often percieved as judgemental, negative, hypocritical, and obsessed with money, sex, and power. There has been a history of systemic racism, sexism, colonization, environmental destruction, and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse which the Church, when not active in, has been complicit in.
We are a community, and part of a wider Diocese, that is deeply committed to and active in naming, and addressing our past sins, and present struggles. We affirm the variety of sexual and gender identites which exist in this glorious, God-given world. We are wrestling with the legacy of colonialism, and seeking to decolonize our hearts, minds, and structures. We are seeking to be a welcoming, open, supportive, loving community.
Church communities, in the face of these past wrongs, and present difficulties often respond by contracting - turning inwards, concerned only for our own identity, anxious about money and resources, worried about our future, and weighted down by expectations coming from our past.
Yet I believe that we are being called at this time to be a church that recommits itself to a a different way. A way of expansive and generous thinking, of being a safe place for all to explore spirituality and their own identity and place in the world. We are being called to practise, above all, radical hospitality.
Through pandemic many of the ways in which we, as Church, were used to being and doing shifted radically. Our gatherings became 'online' and we had to invest in ways in which to be 'together apart and apart together'. We invited people into our worship online as well as, eventually, in person. Though we are gathering together in one place, again, there are still many to experience something of our community via zoom or livestream. And many new members of and visitors to our community at St John the Divine who have never experienced 'how it used be'. Yet it seems that as a community we are committed more to 'getting back to what it was' rather than engaging in new ways of being and doing, a new sense of radical hospitality and welcome.
For the vast majority of my 27 years of ministry, the church has expected people to engage with our activities 'on our terms' - often expecting conformity without realizing it, things as small as expecting 'men to remove hats' or where people sit did not encourage people to feel welcomed and wanted. Likewise the form of service has often felt alien, particularly when spread between various books for hymns, liturgy, Scripture readings etc.The pandemic changed that for many, they could enjoy the beautiful music or liturgy or sense of togetherness without ever leaving their homes. They could engage on their terms.
Those visiting and joining church communities often have no idea of those ways things were done, so we should be asking what effect those things we consider normal or usual have on those who are unfamiliar with, or bruised by, the Church may have. Practices which the Church doesn't think twice about are alien and even unwelcoming for those who have little or no experience of Church life or who are recovering from a bad experience.
It will involve reconsidering our expectations of what we do - our expectations that people will sit/stand/kneel/receive communion/act in a certain way. Our expectations of how people look, or sound, or act, or even smell. It may involve thinking how it may feel to be confronted with something which is unfamiliar or has a certain resonance - how does it feel to be handed a service bulletin and be expected to find somewhere to sit and just join in? How does it feel to be expected to sing? How does it feel to have a plate passed around into which you are expected to put money - especially if you are financially insecure, or of a mindset that 'the church is always asking for money'?
Radical hospitality will also involve considering how welcoming our grounds and building look and feel. Does it feel like a place which is alive, welcoming, open, free for all? Does it feel like a place which is loved in such a way that those who visit, or even join, are going to feel loved.
As the video above says, churches which live out radical hospitality also look out as well as look inwards - they connect with those who are dealing with the marginalized, the displaced, the excluded, the poor, and those in need. How might we partner with existing organizations to offer hospitality to those who are usually judged by the church?
All this and more makes up a mindset of radical hospitality. But most of all, radical hospitality looks like Jesus, as the short clip below sums up succinctly.
and here's a summary from the United Methodist Church - What is Radical Hospitality?