I absolutely agree that radical in-hospitality is a primary reason for our declining membership, but it’s not the inhospitality of the Sacraments, or even of the institutional Episcopal Church. It is the inhospitality of our members that keeps people from coming back.
The Sunday morning gauntlet of inhospitalityMy husband and I have visited many, many episcopal parishes—throughout our own diocese of Ohio, in Europe, New York, Alabama, West Virginia, California, and more—and every visit, I am sad to say, goes in essentially the same way
- We walk through the doors and a greeter hands us a bulletin, barely pausing in his conversation with the other greeter. They do not ask us our names or acknowledge that we’re visiting.
- We sit down in a pew (and I have to struggle with the kneelers because my knee does not bend).
- People are speaking softly with each other, but no one talks to us.
- The worship begins, and during the first hymn, people suddenly notice that we’re there because we sing. Loudly.
- At the Peace, and certainly after the Eucharist, members of the choir rush up to us and say, “Oh, you have a beautiful voice. You HAVE to join the choir…” But they do not introduce themselves, nor do they ask our name.
- Nor do they tell us how pleased they are that after researching thoroughly the question of where we will worship, we chose their parish above any other to visit.
- Rarely do they ask us to come back, and never what we’re doing for lunch that day.
But that's only the part that we could FIX TODAY...Our radical indifference toward the stranger in our worship is only an aspect that we could fix immediately, if we chose to do. It is compounded by far more systemic and structural inhospitalities that will be harder for us to overcome.
- Our music is inhospitable to the present generation’s musicality.
- Our buildings are inhospitable to the differently abled.
- Our penchant for quiet decorum during worship is inhospitable to children.
- Our lovely, poetic texts are inhospitable to the uneducated and illiterate.
- Our socioeconomic culture is inhospitable to the poor.
- Our distinctively American view of the world is inhospitable to non-American parts of the Episcopal Church.
- Our overly-intellectual approach to justice is inhospitable to those who are oppressed. (After all, we don’t really want to hug people who smell bad to us, even if they are Jesus in our midst.)
If I thought for one moment that only our theology of Baptism and Eucharist stood in the way of radical hospitality, I might support the idea of the “open table,” but I want to say that we are guilty of much more bald-faced sins toward the stranger.
If you want to be radically hospitable, invite the homeless into your home for lunch. Christ sits at that table every day. THAT is the table that needs to be opened.