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Costly Hospitality

I was struck this weekend when two separate, self-avowed, 'non-religious' people expressed admiration for the welcome offered by Coventry Cathedral. It is without doubt a very special place, made so more by its resilient commitment to reconciliation than its splendid architecture.

Here is the real dilemma: it is the struggle between safety versus risk, vulnerability versus re-victimisation.

I wrote a short description of 'costly hospitality' for the Dignity & Worth Website recently and it sparked some discussion about that balance. For those of us who have been victimized by the Church - either through microaggressions or outright hostility - should we not expect the Church to offer protection from further abuse? Isn't the recent uncovering of past cases of unreported abuse a warning against a Church with open doors?

So, can the Church be, at one and the same time, a place of refuge for the vulnerable and a place of welcome for all? If it's a choice, where should be emphasis be? I have many excellent colleagues who commit their lives to working alongside some of the most vulnerable and abused people in our society. The need to provide a space where they can feel safer is essential if the Church is to fulfil its reponsibility towards them. But their needs are not the only ones the Church is called to minister to. As a community formed and motivated by the unconditional love of God in Christ, we are also called to love to unlovely, those who created victims and left a trail of destruction in their wake. To extend our compassion and care only to those whom we deem innocent is worthy, yes, but it is not Gospel.

There is a further step required for the followers of Jesus. It is not enough - though it may be the best we can do for now - to create segregated spaces for different kinds of people. The ultimate vision of the Gospel feast is a place for everyone and a fellowship for all. Reconciliation is done in the bringing together of pieces that have been fragmented in order to form new shapes. All loving relationships have built into them the possibility for pain and hurt. Those most dear to us can cause us the greatest grief. I am not suggesting for one minute the irresponsible, unfacilitated and unboundaried intereaction of victims and perpetrators. But there is a place for striving to create spaces where survivors' stories are truly heard and become the spark that transforms behaviour and attitudes in perpetrators - where the 'weak shame the strong'.

For me, costly hospitality is entered into voluntarily and fully aware of the potential risks. It seeks to acknowledge the vulnerabilities present and foster an atmosphere of respect and mutual care. And it carries with it the potential for authentic encounter and therefore transformation. In my own experience, it has led to amazing conversations and, what I consider, true friendship, as well as a deep and empowering fellowship when 'heart speaks to heart.'

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