Adventures in Generosity

The occasionally coherent ramblings of a Stewardship Advisor in the Church of England

Archive for hospitality

Trouble brewing ?

Ever had one of those conversations where you thought you were talking about one thing but it turned out that what you were actually talking about was something else entirely ?

Twitter went a bit manic today when a seemingly inoccuous discussion about Coffee and its general quality in church uncovered a seemingly bottomless well of discontent and frustration – which it turns out isn’t really about coffee at all !

The collective conversation which ensued is too lengthy to repeat here – suffice to say that the potential for a book exploring the subject in-depth was mooted as a possibility. But in a nutshell the flow of the conversation went something like this:

A Rev. twitter buddy of mine was in trouble with member or members of her church because the coffee being served at lent groups had been switched from instant to ‘proper coffee’ !!!

Trivial, yes ? we thought so and had a brief titter – but then, someone else asked – why the concern over such trivial matters and why do they seem to blow out of all proportion so very often ? And why, while we are on the subject is the coffee generally served up by churches so woefully awful ?

Tweep after Tweep seemed to join the throng, observing that not only was the coffee generally awful, but the tea and biccies were usually fairly low rent too, and while we’re at it – why do churches insist on sticking up badly designed posters all wonky on scruffy looking noticeboards, what’s with all those old piles of dusty parish mags at the back and why, in short was the church so generally determined that ‘that’ll do’ would do ?

As the conversation continued it seemed the original problem arose because ‘proper’ coffee was all too expensive and that whilst ‘young folk’ could fritter their money on such frivolity as ‘posh coffee’ the church ought to be above such pointless frippery and stand up for… what exactly? bland, second rate beverages?

So now we see – this isn’t about coffee at all ! this is about piety ! self denial ! we are shonky and a bit amateurish because it is what God wants! Away with your warm hospitality, we don’t want to offer the best we can afford to our brothers and sisters, even less to occasional visitors – what God really wants is for us to offer a grudging mug of luke warm sludge and a broken digestive to our guests – right ?

Erm, well, not exactly.

The Bible is fairly clear on the subject of hospitality – my current bible study plan covers passage after passage in the OT commanding Israel to offer the best of their hospitality, to welcome all comers with the very best they have to offer.

Jesus didn’t turn water into any old cheap plonk – He saved the best for last. The prodigal son does not return to a warmed over pot noodle.

The bible exhorts us again and again to treat others with the generosity, love and welcome that we would wish to receive – why ? Because when we honour each other we honour our Creator – because “when you do this to the least of these, you do it to me” .

So what are we saying when we offer less than the best of ourselves ? Whose money, exactly, are we saving ? And what message does our welcome give about the Gospel we proclaim ? Are we guilty of perpetuating an image of the church as cheap, scruffy and deteriorating ?

There is much more to be said following todays discussion – about how this ‘second best is good enough’ attitude spills into our financial stewardship, about attitudes to change and attitudes to the young, about Fair Trade, about our image of ourselves and of God – but for now I would like to exhort each of us with the words of a fellow twitterer @crimperman:

Lets give up bad coffee for Lent !

In our time of preparation lets prepare our churches for Easter morning by throwing open our doors, welcoming all comers with warm and open arms, tidying up a bit and putting on a decent cuppa.

Given the cost of Good Friday I’d say a couple of quid on a packet of Fair Trade Costa Rican was a small price to pay.

An awesome week closes with a rude awakening

So clearly the week was a great success – I’ve not had chance to put digit to keyboard since Tuesday, and I was certainly looking forward to getting home and reflecting on some of the inspiring, insightful and challenging topics that have been filling my week.

I was particularly excited to share with you  my new favourite phrase – Reckless  Generosity and tell you how moved and inspired I was hearing about the experience of Christians working in Africa – with people who have little in the way of material wealth but are truly and joyfully, some might say insanely generous with everything they have.

I was also inspired to hear about the mission of churches in this country and challenged to take the message of mission focused stewardship back to my parishes.

But instead I find myself sat before you unable to express any of this joy, in fact unable to write about anything but deep unease and outright distress having discovered just how shallow my own generosity really is.

Our Careforce worker, Beth, is leaving after a year with us and I attended a family bring and share supper down at Church last night.  As you will know, Bring and Share always produces a table heaving with more food than any of us could hope to finish and we were just beginning to tuck into the banquet when we were joined be an unexpected guest.

I could tell you that my (our) response was down to genuine fear – the Vicar informed me quietly that he had been involved with the gentleman in the past and that he had just had a short term in prison as a result of a fight.  I could tell you that I feared that engaging with him as he sat at our table would place my children and those of my friends in danger.  But lets face it, if anyone had genuinly felt a real threat, with all those children present, we would have acted.

So no, we allowed the man (who’s name I maynever know) to help himself (gosh aren’t we gracious Christians) and we allowed him to take a seat.  We also allowed him to return to the table and leave with half a quiche after he’d emptied his plate.

But no – one, not one person, the whole time he was with us, spoke to him, acknowledged him, offered him a smile or even eye contact to recognise that here was a man clearly in need.

In need of food yes, in need of warmth and shelter on a wet night, in need, no doubt, of the warm cuppa that no-one offered him. But above all else, in need of acknowledgment of his humanity.  In need of someone to smile and say hello and offer him fellowship despite his grubby clothes, grizzled beard and hair and eyes that spoke of several hard lives lived.

But there he sat, and there he went, out into the night. unacknowledged, spiritually unfed and unwelcome.

Could we have been a worse example of a community living the gospel ?  Well, in fact yes.  As well as our church friends, several teens from the local high school, kids who Beth has been working with and who have not yet found a faith were there.  They saw what we saw, they saw what we didn’t say or do, they saw this from a merry and well fed group of shoddy Christians that should have done much much better – and they saw it from me.

Reckless Generosity ? More like Spineless.  Never again will I sit merrily bemoaning the lack of true Christian Generosity in some parishes I visit, never again will I throw the stone that ‘they just don’t get it’ – because I now know that I live in a very fragile glasshouse.

I just thank God that Sunday is coming and that The One who has shown so much faith in me will never turn away, no matter that I spent last night ignoring His Son.  Can I be better than this – please God tell me I can.