At a recent meeting of the RCIA Network Executive, we spent some time reflecting on the principles that underpin all we do in the proces of accompanying the journey of adults towards Christian initiationand – and why we do it! One of these principles, deeply held in all faith traditions, and specifically in the ‘Journey in Faith’ context, in our Judeo-Christian tradition , is that of Hospitality. Perhaps that word has been hijacked by corporate-speak in our modern day, with ‘hospitality tents’ at sports or other events – and there is some goodness there! However, when we are speaking of hospitality in the biblical tradition, we mean something far deeper – rooted in God’s own hospitality for us, which then flows through us into our hospitality for one another and all those who come to visit or to make enquiry. In our RCIA Network conference this Summer, we spend two whole days pondering the Emmaus story. Many of the qualities that God’s word teaches us about the nature of true hospitality – to friend and stranger – are highlighted for us as RCIA teams and our relationship with enquirers in this story of transformation.
On Saturday last, over 700 people gathered in our Diocese for the annual ‘inspiration day’ for liturgical ministers (readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, Welcomers, and so on).The speaker, David Jennings, priest of East Anglia Diocese, invited everyone to think about the signs they would expect to see in a ‘welcoming parish’, particularly on a Sunday when coming to Mass. The people responded:
- Greetings & introductions as people enter, and then particular welcome at the beginning of Mass
- opportunity to engage in conversation
- invite participation
- be a joyful community
- have awareness of /sensitivity to any potential hidden ‘barriers’ (language, culture etc)
- communicate well – eye contact, warmth – listen to their stories/tell our story
- personanly invite to coffee/chat
- help people to feel they can belong
- be much more aware of the people round you
- develop open door – not just of building, but of our hearts
Simple stuff! And there is of course so much more – about being a welcoming community. (see www.everybodyswelcome.org.uk ) Our welcome is rooted in the deepest truth of our faith – that Christ is present, offering hospitality, through the Word, through the Sacrament, through the Assembly, through the Priest – through our community life, worship, response to the Word and outreach. And through the stranger. On the road the disciples welcomed Christ the stranger to join them; Jesus enabled the disciples to empty themselves, spilling out their grief and their dashed hopes, so that He could speak into their hearts – and their response was ‘stay with us’… And after the whole experience, ‘ did not our hearts burn within us’.
Hospitality is the business of the whole community. It is the whole community who welcome and initiate. And it begins with ourselves, increasingly becoming people of heart-burning hospitality, so that others who come can feel touched by that presence of Christ, that welcome, and we can be touched and transformed by theb presence of Christ that they bring to us – its a wonderful two-way flow that changes us all!
Things to ponder in the week: Having listened to Sunday’s Gospel, how can we stop arguing amongst ourselves, looking inwards, and instead, turn outwards, child-like, ready to be amazed, and through our openness and our welcome of those who want to come and walk the way of conversion with us, discover our whole purpose in life, and be transformed! What are some of the little steps we can take towards being a truly open, welcoming parish community? We could discuss this across the parish, after Sunday mass, in the Parish Council, as groups of ministers, in the SVP, in Children’s liturgy – any opportunity when the community meets – and of course, as RCIA team!