The mutuality of embodied hospitality


espinetaa4pdf_page_01I have been particularly interested in the dynamics of hospitality since our family welcomed a refugee from West Africa into our home some years ago. After a few months of getting to know him, Ali turned up unannounced at our dining room table one Sunday evening: “Can I stay with you?” His living situation had become untenable. With 5 kids in our family—including a newborn—our adventure began.

We learnt a lot over his 5 week stay. Hospitality invites the engagement of host and guest; we discovered hands on what these roles actually looked like. Hospitality involves the creation of space for another to both be and become; we learnt how to make space in our home and our hearts for Ali, modelling acceptance and providing practical help where we could for him to move forward.

What really surprised me, however, was the mutual nature of embodied hospitality. Even as I played ‘host’ to Ali, I experienced my own challenges and changes as I met some foreigners within myself: Bruce the racist, Bruce who felt so noble in helping this person, and Bruce the scrooge, to name a few. Until then I had never really met these strangers or had reason to converse with them. Ali formed strong bonds with our kids, and often his graciousness, warmth of spirit and rich contribution to our family life provided a strong contrast to the unsettling dynamics of formation occurring within myself.

Just who was hosting who?

Christine Pohl says that “[s]trangers rarely bring only their needs; within the hospitality relationship, hosts often experience profound blessing. Acts of hospitality participate in and reflect God’s greater hospitality and therefore hold some connection to the divine, to holy ground”. 1 Mutuality, I discovered, is a key aspect of such holy ground. And central to mutuality is vulnerability. Genuine hosting means relinquishing any ‘power’ we might feel as the host, and being open to receiving from the strangers in our midst.

Jesus embodied this as he messed with the usual protocols for hospitality. Often he brought God’s shalom to people while he ate their food. As a wedding guest he provided the choice wine. He sent his disciples out to manifest the kingdom as guests in people’s homes. For those who offer a basic hospitable act such as providing a cup of cold water, he insisted the encounter is divine.

Vulnerability and openness lie at the heart of hospitality, for both host and stranger. As soon as offering hospitality becomes a mechanism for feeling noble or subtly exercising power, it has lost its essence. Conversely, when we offer hospitality with a posture of vulnerability and openness, we may just find ourselves on holy ground as we embody the well-known exhortation: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).


Bruce Hulme


Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), 13



Hospitality as Mission


“Come over for dinner?” Much western hospitality has become an invite to friends or someone just met – often someone who thinks and looks like us. As Christians, when we’ve done this we may feel we have fulfilled the biblical injunction to “practice hospitality”. We may have done what we can – and that’s good, but if this is the only way we practice hospitality we have not understood the essence of hospitality in the world of the Bible.


In the pre-hotel ancient world, hospitality was the welcome of a stranger who arrived in your village or at your home or compound, and needed a place of shelter for the night. Hospitality was a sacred duty to your God in Judaism, Christianity and other religions.  Hospitality was about making room for people and giving them a place at the table. A protocol of ancient hospitality was that it was undemanding in that the stranger was welcomed in without the host first determining their name, business, etc. It was impolite to ask the guest’s name until their animals were cared for and the guests had eaten.


We live in a different world. Strangers are danger, not potential angels (cf. Heb 13: 2). We don’t live in compounds with large extended families. Paid accommodation abounds. No one is knocking on our door seeking a bed, and if they did many of us would lack the capacity or courage to welcome them in. “Stranger Danger” needs to be factored in to our hospitality. Consequently, hospitality distils to people we know who are like us.


At Blair Athol, a suburb characterized by difference and otherness (57 languages spoken in the local Primary School!), we try in our Drop-in Centre to practice some of the ancient mores of hospitality. Hospitality is done together at the Church because it’s not practical and may not be safe to practice alone in our homes. But together we form a large and extended family and have learnt to safely welcome strangers into our “compound”. We are undemanding and a person may attend for weeks before we know their name. The stranger is not asked to conform or reform in order to be made welcome, unless they are a threat to others in the space, when they may be asked to leave. We believe that once we start making demands on a stranger, whatever we are offering ceases to be hospitality.


This hospitality requires lots of grace and carries some dangers.

Hospitality involves tolerance because it requires accepting in the other what we may not understand or agree with. The danger with this degree of tolerance is that it requires the suspension of judgement, and this is naïve given our sinfulness.[1]


When this degree of hospitality is practiced, the question arises, “Does this mean the host forfeits all rights, suspends all judgment and tolerates anything and everything?” I think the answer is “No.” Instead, we have to “to trust that God, through the Holy Spirit, will make demands on the guest.”[2] (John16:8).


Our job is to love and welcome people as God loves and welcomes us – not to “fix” people. Our experience in providing hospitality that is welcoming and undemanding of strangers is that it is intrinsically missional. We have seen lives changed and people come to faith, not because we demanded of them, but because God through the Spirit made a demand on them to which they responded.


Stranger danger impedes mission. But if we courageously risk welcoming the stranger, including those who are different, intimidating or threatening, we may find ourselves in the presence of an angel.


This article first appeared in “Need 2 Know (September 2016)”, a publication of Churches of Christ SA and NT.

Rev Grant Simpson is the Minister at Blair Athol Church of Christ. His Master of Ministry thesis was entitled “The Church as a Community of Friends: Hospitality and Friendship as Mission”


Mark Riessen- Tabor, College of Higher Education


For our MANNA online magazine

   [1] Ann Morisy, Journeying Out, A New Approach to Christian Mission (London: Morehouse, 2004), 174.

   [2] Ibid., 174.

Sharing in the Hospitality of God


 The Christian God is inherently hospitable- open hearted and welcoming. This is who he is. This is what he has always been like. This is what theologians mean when they say that God is Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Michael Reeves says in his book Delighting in the Trinity that “It is only when you grasp what it means for God to be Trinity that you really sense the beauty , the overflowing kindness, the heart grabbing loveliness of God.”  It is also where all talk of Christian hospitality should begin, for it is only in receiving the hospitality of this wonderful God that we are freed to join in his hospitality towards others. Becoming hospitable is not something we have to work at, but something we share in.

Jürgen Moltmann says that ono before he called the world into existence with the command “Let there be,” the Father’s nature was always to “let be”  – to grant space and room for the other. Early theologians referred to the Father as a fountain forever overflowing with life and love.  A fountain that did not overflow could not be called a fountain, just so, the Father would not be the Father if he was not inherently life-giving and loving. This is his nature – essential to who he is. Karl Barth says the Christian God is the self-giving Godthe God who is himself in his self-giving.

That the triune God is forever giving is disclosed to us in the way that he acts towards us. It is why Jesus said “As the Father has loved me so have I loved you” (Jn 15:19), and why Paul assures us that “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:32). It is also why Tom Smail calls the Holy Spirit the “Giving Gift,” or “the Gift that keeps on giving,” and why Michael Reeves speaks of the beautifying work of the Spirit in our lives as an act of divine sharing – “Through the giving of the Spirit, God shares with us – catches us up into-the life that is his.” It is also why, the early Church Father Irenaeus said long ago, the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father reaching out to gather us up into the Father’s embrace.

What greater expression of hospitality could there be: the hospitable God receiving us, welcoming us, granting us a share in his own divine life? By the grace of God alone, we, sinners as we are, have been taken in by God himself. C. S. Lewis says that we have been “welcomed into the heart of things.” Through the Spirit we too experience the Father’s delight in his Son.  We actually share in the Son’s belovedness – “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Our one great sin, then, is to refuse the hospitality of this God – to say no to the God who loves us, to close ourselves to the one who has opened his life to us – or, having received from him, to refuse to pass on this hospitality to others.

What does sharing in the hospitality of God towards others look like? I can find no better illustration than in Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables, where Bishop Monseigneur Bienvenu (his name means “welcome”) surprises the ex-prisoner and now destitute Jean Valjean by receiving him as an honoured guest into his house. The dialogue between the two goes like this:

“Monsieur Cure,” said the man, “you are good: you don’t despise me. You take me into your house; you light your candles for me, and I haven’t hid from you where I come from, and how miserable I am.

The bishop, who was sitting near him, touched his hand gently and said: “You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome. And do not thank me; do not tell me that I take you into my house. This is the home of no man, except him who needs asylum. I tell you, who are a traveler, that you are more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me, I knew it.

The man opened his eyes in astonishment:

“Really? You knew my name?”

“Yes,” answered the bishop, “your name is my brother.”

For our online MANNA magazine

David McGregor

Hospitality in a Person’s Hell

espinetaa4pdf_page_01The word “hospitality” often evokes images of a warm house on a cold night, delicious smells, and family laughing together around a full table. We imagine somebody from outside being welcomed into a home filled with grace, joy, safety, and peace.

Certainly, this is part of the Christian view of hospitality, but it doesn’t end there. Indeed, the word hospital is intrinsically linked to hospitality.

Christians invented hospitals. While many societies had places for the sick, few of those places were in any way hospitable. Yet from the beginning, Christians welcomed the sick into their homes, caring for them. Once Christians received unprecedented resources from Constantine, they immediately established hospitals all over the Roman Empire. During the Crusades, the pope commissioned the Knights Hospitallers in 1113 to manage a hospital in Jerusalem. They were also called the Order of Saint John, and their legacy remains today through the St John’s Ambulance service.

Yet few of us would naturally identify a hospital ward with the same warm emotions as a family table. Hospitals are often places of sickness, of pain, of lament. We want to go to the table. We don’t want to go anywhere near a hospital bed.

This only gets worse when we try to imagine a hospital in the early Church period or the medieval era. This is a time without the four “As”: Antiseptics, Antibiotics, Analgesics, or Anaesthetics. Nobody knew about germs. The dominant medical framework was taken from ancient Greece, and was almost completely wrong. And because the Church ran these hospitals as an act of charity, for a malnourished, unhygenic populace, they were frequently under-resourced and overcrowded.

Try to imagine you’re in one of those hospitals. See the poor crammed on mats, with dirty bandages. Hear the screams of those suffering without pain-killers. Smell the stench of puss, sweat, diarrhoea, death. And see the monks and nuns in the midst of it, trying to care for those people as best they can, because nobody else will.

That is part of Christian hospitality.

How on earth did they do it?

One such hospital was run by St Catherine of Genoa. Catherine also produced some profound Christian writings –not from the serenity of the convent, but from the mess of the hospital. She wrote,

“I have seen God’s love. Indeed, every day I feel myself more occupied with Him, and I feel a greater fire within… I became so consumed with this love that as I stood contemplating this work within me, I felt that even if I were to be cast into hell, hell itself would have appeared to me all love and consolation.”

Considering the hell she worked in, this was no hypothetical theory for Catherine.

It is in utter dependence upon God working in us, that we can do this truly astonishing feat of Christian hospitality: not merely inviting people into places of heaven on earth; but bringing some of heaven into their most hellish experiences. This is a courageous, Christlike hospitality, only made possible in Christ’s power. And it is still sorely needed today.

Matthew Gray



‘Marriage, Hospitality and the Spiritual Life’.


espinetaa4pdf_page_01This article will discuss hospitality and the spiritual life – using the marriage-relationship as its setting. I’m adopting this approach because in September this year, my wife Ros and I celebrate 40 years of marriage together. This milestone provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the major life achievements during our lives; i.e., bearing and raising children, growing our vocational careers, developing friendships, making home together, the service we have offered in church and community – but also to reflect on marriage as an important domain where husbands and wives “host” each other in their physical, emotional and spiritual existence.

I want to develop 4 key observations for Christian couples. The first observation is that our homes ought to be places of hospitality – not just for visiting friends, family and relatives, but of hospitality offered to each another. Words of kindness, welcome, greeting, and meaningful embrace ought to characterize our mornings and evenings, mid-days and mid-nights. Couples in love and in marriage ought to be able to feel “at home” in the place where they live together. I think being hospitable to one another is deeply important.

The second observation is that marriage is the context where we ought to be growing in holiness together. Books like Julie Massey and Bridget Ravizza’s Project Holiness: marriage as a workshop for everyday saints (Collegeville, MN: Order of St Benedict, 2015) tell us that that learning to care for each other physically and emotionally provides us with a remarkable opportunity to develop as spiritual beings. It would appear that God intended marriage to be – among other things – a workshop for holiness, where we not only pay attention to nurturing the children we bring into being, but that we also pay attention to nurturing each other. How many husbands and wives have split up because once they have completed their child-raising duties they no longer know how to relate to each other?

The third observation is that Ros and I have tried to maintain a prayer-routine together. On Sunday afternoon at 5 o’clock we sit quietly with our diaries and prayer journals and refocus our physical and spiritual attentions on the week that lies ahead. We give thanks to God for all that he is doing in our lives, and ask for energy and strength for the busy week ahead. Prayer for our families, our world, our local church and community gives us a shared base from which we can continue in our service to Christ, his kingdom, our family, our local church and our world. Many Christian couples attempt to live the Christian life separately, but there is a powerhouse available to us in praying together and talking about matters of faith that forms a powerfully connecting bond between husband and wife.

My final observation is that marriage is the place of “first” discipleship. If our faith isn’t being put to work in our marriage-relationships, it can hardly be put to work in relationships outside of marriage. Jane E. Strohl wrote an article entitled ‘Marriage as Discipleship: Luther’s Praise of Married Life’ (Dialog: a Journal of Theology, 47/2/2008, 136-142) in which she explored Martin Luther’s teaching on marriage as a relationship that ennobles both partners, and enables them to grow in their humanity, their humility and their mutual submission one to the other, in God’s name. Only as we give away our lives to others can we truly be happy.


Strategy and Spirituality in Global Mission

One of the blessings of my role at Tabor is getting out of Adelaide and engaging with mission-minded leaders elsewhere in Australia and overseas.  Recently, I attended Mission Interlink’s ConNEXTion conference in Sydney.  Missions Interlink, an organization I have been associated with since 1991, is the peak body for global mission agencies in Australia.  The theme in the plenary sessions and 24 workshops was strategy and spirituality in the global mission arena from the perspectives of the Scriptures, godly practitioners and formal missiological research.

Some of the key ideas and reflections are worth sharing to maximize the impact of the gathering.  Here are four takeaways that have relevance for the missions industry and for churches at the local and denominational levels.  Much is being learnt about encouraging God’s people into mission that integrates strategy and spirituality.  Click here for a link to the Missions Interlink website where further information can be found.

Number 1 – Diversity in Making Missional Decisions

Eddie Arthur from Global Connections in the UK was the keynote speaker. He gave three excellent Bible-focused presentations on the following theme: In the footsteps of the Spirit: Rethinking Mission Strategy from Acts of the Apostles.  He explored key missional figures in the growth of the early church in the Gentile world (Philip, Barnabas and Paul) and how they approached strategy in response to persecution, new contexts, the direction of the Holy Spirit, the need to monitor and support the growth of the church in new geographic locations, and listening to God’s people.

Number 2 – Imagery for Mobilizing for Global Mission

A forthcoming book from WEA Missions Commission on mobilizing for mission entitled Mission in Motion by Malcolm Gold and Jay Matenga calls the global church to fan the flame so God can thrust out workers into the harvest. They have identified four interacting ideal types for mobilization (pragmatic, educational, formulaic and relational) and use fire as a metaphor to explore the key accelerants (influential relationships and education), retardants (funding mission agency, sending context, spiritual opposition and gender), and ignition for global and local mission.

 Number 3 – Theologize or Mobilize?

Over the past 40 years the evangelical mission community has created specific compelling narratives and constructs to aid the mobilization for global mission such as Unreached People Groups, Homogenous Unit Principle and the 10/40 Window.  Darrell Jackson challenged us to evaluate these stories, to address the blind spots they create, and to contemplate and validate other strategies and compelling narratives for mobilisation, thereby encouraging healthy contextual innovation.

Number 4 – Challenges Facing the Australian Church in Regards to Global Mission

The Australian data from NCLS reveals that clear challenges exist for global mission agencies.  The aging nature of the financial supporters of agencies, the strong focus on social action type activities rather than evangelistic and church planting type activities, and the declining presence of younger generations will put pressure on agencies in the next decade. Tackling and engaging these national trends will be vital for churches and agencies to minimize their potential impact.

These four takeaways provide challenges. If you want to converse with me further about them, then don’t hesitate to contact me at Tabor as I am willing to pray and explore innovation and creative responses.


David Turnbull