As we have begun a new year and have clarified our identity and mission at Ellendale UMC, we are looking for ways to live into these emphases as a community longing to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ by making disciples of Jesus Christ. The way we believe that disciples are made is through a process called H.O.P.E. – practicing Hospitality through radically welcoming and extending the grace of God to all; Offering Christ to those with whom we come in contact by giving opportunities for people to commit their lives to Jesus; developing spiritual Practices that foster our growth in our relationship and love for Christ and for our neighbors; and Engaging the community through mission and service.
As we go through the next 12 months, we will be working on how to bring H.O.P.E. to the community we serve and to the disciples in our own congregation. To this end, then, in each quarter we will have an emphasis on one of the letters of H.O.P.E. to keep this focus and process ever before us so that our church might be strengthened and God’s kingdom will become more of a reality in our lives. Each quarter there will be a new study and type of project to help reach this goal.
The first letter is H, for Hospitality. Hospitality is more than just the hotel and restaurant industry. It is an ancient practice and discipline that has guided God’s people in extending the warmth of God’s love and grace to the world. It is emphasized both in the Old and New Testaments as a hallmark of the community of the faithful.
One of the ways to help improve our hospitality is by strengthening our bonds with one another and offering opportunities to build relationships throughout the congregation, particularly where there is little contact among groups. Here, then, are three things that will guide our pursuit of practicing hospitality over the next few weeks and months:
1. I will speak to the importance of hospitality in my messages on Sunday mornings
2. A study called Making Room by Christine Pohl is available for Sunday school classes or small groups to use. Some classes have already done this study but it is available for others who want to explore more on the biblical and theological background of this topic and how we can grow in this area today
3. We are starting a practice of hospitality dinners/gatherings as a way of getting to know one another more.
About this last action, a note from Making Room: “The theological importance of eating together helps explain why practitioners of hospitality so often report that they feel closest to God in times of shared meals.” As Methodists who enjoy a good potluck, I think we know this to be true and it seems to be ingrained in our DNA. So to help deepen our relationships with God and one another, our project for hospitality will be having hospitality dinners and here’s how it works.
We will have an insert in the bulletin in the coming weeks on which you can sign up, or you may simply email or call the church office to take part in this – this is intended to be for anyone and everyone interested – individuals, couples, and families. We will put together groups of about 8-10 people representative of different ages, stations, worship services, Sunday school classes, etc.
Once a month each group will gather with one of the members of each group serving as the host for the group for that month/meal. The time that each group meets is up to the members of each group. If it is your turn to host your group, you can prepare a meal or organize a potluck at your home, go out to eat, go play a trivia night at a restaurant with your group, or whatever you would prefer. These would begin in March and you would meet with the same group over the course of the next 9 months and in November, the month of Thanksgiving, can reflect within your group and/or to others in the congregation in giving thanks over what God has shown you in the development of these relationships. When you break bread together, like we do in worship at Holy Communion, you can remember the Hospitality that Christ gave us in hosting us at his table, providing the bread of his body and the cup of salvation in the pouring out of his blood.
I believe this practice will be a beneficial one as we seek to strengthen our bonds with one another and therefore our practice of extending hospitality to our neighbors on a day-to-day basis as well. I hope and believe that we will have some fun in this and make some new friends.