Thursday, October 9, 2008

Quakers and Radical Hospitality

There is a Methodist church I know that has a sign out front that says all are welcome. More than that anyone who walks off the street will truly be welcomed, and the church makes sure there is always someone there to sit and talk with people who come to them. They also run a soup kitchen, many religious education groups, a daycare program, and the pastor is very active in local activism. This year they hosted the People of Blessings Service an ecumenical service celebrating the local GLBTQ community. Not everyone who belongs to this church is in favor of their stance towards radical inclusiveness but the pastor feels that inclusiveness is her duty as a servant of God. One day she told us all, at one of the book discussion groups that I attend, about a Methodist church she interned at. This church had sunk down to a tiny congregation of elderly churchgoers. When the diocese sent people down to see if they could revive the church they realized that the church stood in the middle of a very impoverished community. So they started a soup kitchen, and a food bank, and a free meal system where on Sunday they would set up tables outside of the church and handout free meals. The whole congregation participated and the church grew. They funded these good works and revival by declaring themselves a mission church and trusting other churches would support their work financially.

Radical Hospitality is, in the words of Saint Benedict, “to invite all into your house as if they where Christ.” In my experience Quakers are real horrifically bad at it. My own meeting can’t be bothered to give food to the local food pantry. While I know of one meeting who keeps their building locked at all times because they are situated in an impoverished community and are
afraid of getting stuff stolen. They also have on going debate about turning people away when they come asking for food. I don’t drive, due to my disabilities. In the town I was staying at for two summers I only got one ride once to meeting and that was after a lot of trouble and very grudgingly offered. Furthermore it took me a solid month to track down someone willing to give me a ride to Meeting this summer. I would have been happy to take the bus but it didn’t run on Sundays. Over all though it’s not surprising that if Friends are this unwilling to go out of their way to welcome a young adult Friend, that they wouldn’t be at all willing to help a non Quaker. I find this strange and very sad because we as Friends are supposed to be bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, as far as I can tell, we are phenomenally bad at welcoming people into our midst or reaching out to our communities. In a resent book group I read the chapter on Hospitality, in Christianity for the Rest of Us, about a church that welcomed, ex-convicts, the elderly, gay and lesbian couples, troubled teens, and anyone seeking God into their church and their hearts, taking special time to talk and pray with them and learn their individual needs. I came to the conclusion that Friends aren’t good at hospitality because we don’t want to be.

I have always gotten the feeling that when Friends talked about the Kingdom they were really talking about a time when everyone on the planet would be just like them. As I reflect more though, I think I have come to the conclusion that the Kingdom won’t be so much like your average Quaker meeting and more like a city bus. On, say a down town bus you will have, white collar commuters, shoppers, college students, elderly woman and men, the mentally ill community, the disabled community, punks and Goths, high school kids, hippies, children, troubled teens, people just out of prison or rehab, there are homeless people who are paying the last money the have in bus fare, there are blue collar workers, housewives, college professors, grad students, and perhaps the one young transgendered woman I knew who has been routinely kicked out of all
the homeless shelters in town for being transgendered. Some of these people come and are welcomed into our Meetings, but not all. Many Friends have pointed out that these people do not come to meeting, which is why they are not
there. Yet I would wonder why don’t our meeting look more like city buses? Why are ninety-nine present of all Friends I know white, middle classed and middle aged? There are many, many churches that are made up of members of other communities and groups so why are Quaker meetings not serving as a spiritual home to a more diverse population. Even if we are not attracting people into our meeting why are we not reaching out to our communities? Why do meeting not run soup kitchens,food pantries, and homeless shelters? Why are there no Quaker inner city mission churches? Why are there no Quaker mission churches in America at all? These are not impossible feats. Many other churches of many other denominations do this work. Some churches have dedicated themselves to doing this work. Large numbers of Christians affirm that this work, reaching out to those in need all around us, is God’s work. If this is God’s work then why isn’t it work Friends are doing? Money is not a question when facing God’s work. Friends go to Africa and South America with nothing and do good works. Many other churches raise money to help fund their works. Some churches reach out to other churches to help supply them with funds. I know from experience that community non-profits raise enough money to survive all the time. Perhaps it is fear that holds Friends back from radical hospitality. Perhaps it is spiritual apathy. I only know that until we listen to that of Christ within our hearts and reach out to the communities we are a part of we will move no further in the building of the Kingdom towards which we strive.

17 comments:

cath said...

While I have to say that the church I've personally experienced as having the most readical and inclusive sence of hospitality is not a Friends Meeting, I do not believe that Quakers are adverse to radical hospitality in general.

I do, however, find that when there aren't many Meetings around to compare with, and the only one in the area drops the hospitality ball, it may seem as if Friends are not able to embrace this kind of thing.

Thre are places with a Meetinghouse every couple of miles--and in such a situation, one or more of those Meetings may well feel led to reach out to others. But if a Meeting is small, struggling, and the only Meeting within, say, an entire county--or even set of counties--the effort to keep the Meeting going may be all that the group can handle for the time being.

Perhaps we need to hold in the Light all those small, struggling Meetings who have already stretched their resources so thin. Or have a rising median age. Or live in the shadow of a wealthy mega-church.

cath

Anonymous said...

The meeting I attend is neurotic about "security" and considers renting out an apartment on the grounds - for money - to be a "hospitality witness." I really don't get that.

forrest said...

First off, we are less "supposed to be bringing about the Kingdom of
Heaven" than "invited to move into the Kingdom of Heaven."

Yes, it is far less like a typical Quaker meeting than it is "like a city bus!" (A wonderful way to put it!!!)

"If it were in the air, only the birds could get there. If it were in the sea, the fish would get there first."

Because most modern Quakers have not found the Kingdom, we are Good People instead. (Sigh...)

A Simone Weil quote I found last night... "The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but that, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry." Isn't that the state of most all of our meetings, that we become 'a nice little church to bring the kids to,' or "a place to 'bring about' the Kingdom of God in our spare time"?

So. How does one live with the disappointments of being a Quaker, wanting to do one's responsibility to the Quaker body, while having to recognize that our feet (also arms, trunk, and head) have fallen asleep and would rather not be disturbed? (How do YOU deal with it, dear person?)

cath said...

One way to deal with it is to start doing something on one's own and bring back the results to the Meeting. I've been a community organizer long enough to know that many people will support actions only after they have seen that the project has a chance of really working out.

Yes, I understand that this is frustrating, but I believe it is human nature, not just a problem among Friends.

Starting with small steps and reporting the small advances will eventually gather people into a vision. I don't think it's realistic to expect that everyone will jump on an idea before it's been tested.

Not everyone is gifted with being a visionary. Some very good and compassionate people are better suited to lending a hand behind the scenes or after the initial work has already been done.

Of course, and as always, this is my way of motivating people to support causes I believe in. Your mileage may vary. :)

cath

forrest said...

One more thing...

An idea of mine that never quite took off (& maybe I could have contributed more myself) was 'A Quaker Watering Hole' (located at http://acitycanbemoved.blogspot.com/ )

which was to be a group blog airing thoughts & questions such as thine. (So we wouldn't be keeping our best thoughts at home & having to wander around to find other people's)

Want to try reviving it?

Daniel said...

My Meeting rents out its halls throughout the week to various local groups (proceeds cover costs, plus a bit? - not sure), and also has a Wednesday Meeting with a soup lunch (proceeds to Quaker Work). This isn't anything radical, but might be a step in the right direction for some meetings.

The problem that has to be borne in mind with any hospitality project is how much the meeting can depend on the time of its members to volunteer. Very often, meetings in poorer areas also have poorer member who can't afford to run a soup kitchen unpaid.

Chris M. said...

Sorry to be so late in commenting. I just want to say, "Amen." Our meeting isn't quote as bad as the example you give, but it's not far off, either!

I too love the bus metaphor. Joan Osborne has a wonderful song with a chorus that goes something like, "What if God were one of us?/Just riding on the bus." It's beautiful.

Elizabeth K. Gordon said...

I hope those who can get it will read this month's Spark, from New York Yearly Meeting. The general secretary is saying some of the same things Anna is, thouh perhaps less pointedly, with fewer examples. I'm a member now of Anna's home meeting, Binghamton. I joined last year, but I first attended about 5 years ago, once and then didn't come back. I blamed myself for not reaching out more, but I guess it takes two hands extending for the reaching out to work...

Elizabeth K. Gordon said...

Forrest - thank you for that Simone Weil quote! We lie to ourselves that there is no hunger, OR that we have filled it in other ways. Sometimes with the warm social bath of meeting for worship and the pre and post stuff.

One thing I plan to suggest at our small meeting, where we have a new attender, is to invite new people to share their spiritual journey with us - make an evening of it. I think when we share from our depth we feel more connected. Hospitality as welcoming, and drawing forth, the Light Within.

Limbs asleep, yes....if we welcome someone's Light and they show it to us, are we sometimes intimidated by that? Frightened of what it may call as to (change)?

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