Liturgical Hospitality


Have you ever been in a church and felt completely alone or like you stepped into a country club without your membership?

Have you ever been in a church where the context of the expression was so foreign that you could not engage in it for the life of you?

Have you ever been a part of a church where the mission and values are based on an individual’s preference and were far from what the community actually needed or wanted?

Think back to a lovely evening when you walked into a friend’s warm home, greeted with a friendly embrace. Perhaps they offered you a drink and took your jacket. Did this experience make you feel like family, valued and welcome? This is hospitality.

Liturgy is for the people and the community as a whole. Leaders in the Church must cultivate hospitable environments that allow authentic worship, opportunities for change, and cultural relevance to inspire action. The Church is one long table, and each smaller church community is an extension of that table. Everyone is invited: Conservatives, Liberals, Atheists, Presidents, Poor, Rich, Refugees, Immigrants – the list can go on forever. If we can actually make room at the table and put the unlikely in the front, then we are cultivating liturgical hospitality.

Author/theologian Henri Nouwen writes, “Just as we cannot force a plant to grow but can take away the weeds and stones which prevent its development, so we cannot force anyone to such a personal and intimate change of heart, but we can offer the space where such a change can take place.” The liturgy is for the people, and the leaders of the Church must examine the culture and the needs of the people, and to a larger degree ­– the city. It is our job to create a space for growth – to add more chairs to the table and to deliver the meal. In order do to this, Church leaders must learn the essence of hospitality.

The Culinary Institute of America gives nine principles of hospitality that can effectively be applied liturgically. They say remarkable service is: welcoming, friendly, and courteous, knowledgeable, efficient, well-timed, flexible, consistent, communicating effectively, instilling trust, and exceeding expectations. If the leaders of the Church do not cultivate a welcoming and friendly environment immediately, then people will have a hard time hearing what they have to say. The Church must be hospitable from start to finish.

The CIA continues, “A warm, friendly welcome assures guests that they can relax and enjoy their meal. By the same token, a warm good-bye makes guests feel appreciated and encouraged to return.” Using the same language, this can be viewed as the Eucharist and the Benediction. In a church context where the Eucharist is the centerpiece of the liturgy, everything done is leading up to the point of communion – the meal. Christ is displayed all the way up until He is received at communion. Christ must continue to be displayed after the people are sent out from the Benediction.

If the liturgy is loving and efficient on a consistent basis, then people can learn to trust the leaders. If the leaders can be flexible in the times of need but never wavering in love, they can exceed the expectations of their people. Hospitality is giving remarkable service. Liturgical hospitality is caring for every individual that steps through the door.

The beginning of liturgical hospitality can be seen in the early Church when the Apostles began to reach beyond the Jews and extend their hands to the Gentiles. The origin of this ideological shift began when Jesus was often seen having dinner with sinners who were rejected by the common people (Matt. 2:15-17). From Transforming Mission, David Bosch says, “What amazes one again and again is the inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission. It embraces both poor and the rich, both the oppressed and the oppressor, both the sinners and the devout.” Jesus made room at the table for everyone and often the most unlikely.

More and more Church leaders saw hospitality as part of their mission modeled by Jesus and Paul. Even though change is hard for everyone, Christianity grew because of the extension to different cultures.

Christianity cannot and should not be subject to one culture. The leadership of the Church must be welcoming of people with different worship expressions and should not be swift to impose liturgical changes that could be uncomfortable for a worshipping community. However, the unwillingness to change can be just as harmful as changing too quickly. Learning to be hospitable knows when to make a change and when not to make a change.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for “hospitality” literally means, “love for strangers.” To Evangelicals, Anglicans are strangers, and their liturgy is very different. To Anglicans, Evangelicals are strange, and their services are even stranger. Before the Church can learn to love the rest of the world, the Church needs to break down the denominational walls and love one another.It is the responsibility of the Church to celebrate the differences of tradition. Walking in the ways of Jesus allows us to make room at the table for people that are different than us.

As an Evangelical becoming an Evangelical Anglican, I desire to be a leader in the Church who can apply historical liturgy in modern church settings to cultivate hospitable worship environments for people of different church backgrounds. I desire to express worship with a modern sound, but I do not desire to neglect the history of the Church. There are beautifully crafted liturgies found in The Book of Common Prayer that must be used. Existing churches should be open to analyzing their liturgy for the consideration of updating it to a modern sound or a sacramental focus. For myself, I ask the question, “How can I appropriately adapt to an existing culture, but bring an efficient and fresh perspective to a people that can benefit from a liturgical change?” Beauty lies within the old and the new. The liturgy is for the people, and we must be open to the restructuring of the Church and the deconstructing of liturgical segregation.

The table is much bigger than we think. It’s Christ’s table and it’s a good thing we didn’t build it. Everyone is welcomed and everyone is family. If we were entrusted to make our own table, it would be very small and dominant in a niche culture. We must learn to scoot our seat down and make room for difference and variety. We must learn to view each other as one and not “other.” We must learn to see ourselves as different shades of color, but still one family. As Church leaders, let’s actually lead in this way. We can help guide the Christian voice that often sounds unloving. We can cultivate liturgical hospitality.

*This is a significantly truncated article – for the full piece visit HERE.

Will Retheford is a worship pastor at Every Nation Church (New York, NY), a student at 10,000 Father’s Worship School, & is working on his Masters from General Theological Seminary. He was worked with artists such as Gungor, The Brilliance, and David Leonard from All Sons & Daughters. To read our review of Will’s latest CD take a look HERE.