The Welcoming Congregation

I’ve written another book review for the Englewood Review of Books.

Henry G. Brinton“You’re going to preach an entire sermon series about hospitality?”  This was a friend’s confused response as I was sharing about my preaching plans.  She conceded that hospitality might merit some discussion but couldn’t imagine that the topic warranted more than one sermon.  Her perception, I imagine, is shared among many American Christians.  In the secular realm hospitality is an industry; in our churches the word is associated with ushers, greeters, and those staffing the welcome booth in the lobby.  How much can actually be said abut hospitality?

In The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality Henry G. Brinton shows that there is plenty to be said about this often overlooked Christian practice.  Brinton is the pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church and The Welcoming Congregation is the result of his travels visiting different hospitable Christian communities around the world: the Iona Community in Scotland, Saddleback Church in California, Reconciliation Parish in Germany, and the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC.  Divided into two sections – roots and fruits – Brinton attempts to show both the practices of hospitality and the results of those practices among what he calls “welcoming churches.”  The author writes from a mainline church background and means for his book to be a very practical guide for churches interested in the “moderate religious middle.”  Each chapter concludes with a series of discussion questions, an action plan for local congregations, and a suggested preaching topic.  The Welcoming Church succeeds as a succinct, accessible, and creative guide to any church that is interested in reclaiming the priority of hospitality.

Central to Brinton’s understanding of what it means to be a welcoming congregation is the familiar line from Isaiah 56:7.  Through the prophet the Lord declares that, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  Drawing from this and a handful of additional Biblical passages the author envisions congregations that welcome everyone.  But this is not easy.  He writes, “Most of us have a natural fear of strangers, and we are reminded every day of the political, racial, cultural, sexual, and economic distinctions that so often divide us.  We know that we are most comfortable with people who look and act like ourselves, and that it is easiest to build community among groups of like minded-individuals.”  For Brinton, hospitality must have roots deep enough to sustain non-homogenous communities within an increasingly divided culture.

Read the rest at the Englewood Review of Books site.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

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