The first time I became aware of the term “radical hospitality” I really didn’t pay all that much attention to it. “Radical” was just an adjective that intensified the notion of hospitality. It could just as well have been “intense hospitality” or “extreme hospitality” or “extraordinary hospitality” or, if you wanted to go for the alliteration, “heightened hospitality.” I hardly gave it a second thought.
Then, I read my friend Robert Schnase’s book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. Bishop Schnase has a whole chapter on the concept and it is evident that he put considerable thought into choosing the word “radical”—not only to intensify the idea of hospitality, but also to deepen it in a way that challenges our usual thoughts about the word. He writes, “The words radical and hospitality are not usually together in one phrase. To advance the church, perhaps they should be.” I think he’s right; they are words that belong together.
Radical is great word. It does mean “extreme,” but it means much more. A quick look at the dictionary reveals that it means:
- “Thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms.” So, we are talking about a kind of hospitality that goes beyond the traditional or accepted ways of being hospitable.
- “Going to the root or origin; fundamental; forming a basis or foundation.” So, we are talking about an understanding that gets to the root of what hospitality really is and forms a foundation for what we do.
- “Existing inherently in a thing or person or organization.” So, we are talking about hospitality that is truly who we are as a church.
As we examine our own hospitality in this light, it doesn’t take too long to realize that hospitality — especially radical hospitality — is much, much more than a friendly welcome, a cup of coffee, and a warm handshake (although those things are all still very important!). There is a committee of our church leaders who are charged with studying how we will adjust our own practices of hospitality and they wholeheartedly embrace hospitality in this broader sense. They understand that radical hospitality includes all the ways in which we ensure that all our visitors and guests feel welcome, comfortable, and safe in our buildings, on our grounds, and while participating in our worship services and programs.
In their recent consideration of a few specific security issues, our Trustees realized this broader and more comprehensive definition of our First Church hospitality. By weaving our security ideals into our existing and expanded hospitality initiatives, we are more and more deepening our understanding of a practice of radical hospitality. Making sure everyone feels welcome, safe and “at home in church” is, therefore, the impetus behind the Trustees’ appointment of this special committee to study these issues.
During the next six months this carefully selected group—that will include representative leaders from throughout the ministries of our church—will study and evaluate “best practices” of other downtown churches, the advice of experts, and the needs and priorities of our congregation. With prayerful consideration, this group will then develop a comprehensive plan for achieving these vital objectives, including only the measures that feel right for our church and its specific needs.
We are a downtown church with a large and diverse population that includes people from all walks of life, an excellent fully-accredited preschool, numerous groups, classes, and missions efforts, to name a few. Each has its own special considerations. You may have already noticed a few changes in past few weeks, including uniformed police officers at the West door on weekdays, all exterior doors (except the West door) locked with coded access, access to our children’s areas limited to first floor entrance only. These are simple adjustments designed to address immediate concerns. As our long-term Hospitality, Safety, and Security Plan evolves, we’ll be implementing other, more long-term strategies for creating a safe, comfortable and welcoming environment for all our members, visitors and guests.
I know you will join with me in prayer for these leaders and all those we serve as we work through the process that will ultimately bring the feeling of welcome, comfort, and safety to everyone.
Grace and Peace,