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An inspector calls on the biscuit tin

23 September 2016

Rachel Harden faces tough questions about church hospitality


Messy Hospitality: Changing communities through fun, food, friendship and faith
Lucy Moore
BRF £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9



LUCY MOORE, author of Messy Hospitality, is the founder of the Messy Church movement. Not all churches do Messy Church or even like its concept (I write as an impartial bystander, knowing about it, but never having partaken); but all practise hospitality in their own context. This book is as much about the how and why of hospitality as it is about Messy Church itself, and in places is very challenging about the status quo, rightly so.

Theology sits alongside practical suggestions and personal observations with an initial focus on the biblical basis for hospitality: “We as individuals or as church should always be the crossover place, being great hosts and great guests in our dealings with each other and with the world around us. We see this interplay in the overarching mission of Jesus that Paul describes in Philippians 2.6-11. . .”

The author reflects that in churches often the longstanding congregation see themselves as the host, with everything to give and nothing to take. Yet she points to Jesus as the ultimate host: being so sure of who he was, he could let go of everything. We read the familiar tale of the “welcoming” church, where the congregation are so concerned about preparing for the service and laying out the right books that the arrival of a newcomer is completely overlooked.

The book does focus in parts on how hospitality fits into the four pillars of Messy Church — the welcome, the activities, the celebration, and the meal, with a chapter about hospitality in the home, and a focus on how to train and nurture teams finishing with five complete session outlines.

But the most pertinent points are those that affect us all, and not just the Messy-Church initiated. The welcome at the church door may seem like “the trivial froth of hospitality”, but the attitude that it symbolises is far harder to change, writes the author. At the end of this section is a practical check list with questions to consider right down to “What type of biscuits do you offer?” This may sound silly, but in fact makes a fair point; what do your refreshments say about your church? After all, no one enjoys a soft rich tea.

There are also examples from the world of business, and a management consultant is quoted on how a good host makes the best leader. His observations are insightful. He concludes that a host wants to give everyone the best experience, but, knowing that he or she will not make everyone happy, always acts with both maturity and passion. There is also a well-written chapter on learning from the hospitality industry.

Looking at hospitality in the home, the author points out that the traits of hospitality which a church should demonstrate can and should be replicated on a personal level. There are challenging examples from those who have opened up their homes with far more than the odd offer of Sunday lunch; but also the healthy perspective of personal experience that we must know our own tipping-points.

Messy Church is not everyone’s thing. My only criticism of the book is the title, as it may put readers off before they have started; but every church could benefit from a Messy Hospitality health check.

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