Slow Church: Lenton Reflections

By Aubrey Thonvold

In the wake of all the fear 2017 has already manufactured in the lives of millions of Americans, ReconcilingWorks would like to invite you this Lenten season to reflect on the concepts shared in the book “Slow Church: Cultivating COMMUNITY in the PATIENT Way of JESUS” by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison through the lens of LGBTQ welcome, inclusion, and celebration in your faith community.   

The primary work of Slow Church is not attracting people to our church buildings, but rather cultivation together the resurrection life of Christ, by deeply and selflessly loving our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and even our enemies.  As we holistically embody Christ’s love, we find joy that we pray will draw people closer to Christ.”

Join ReconcilingWorks for the next 40 days in reflection and prayers for the LGBTQ community and others who are forced to live in the margins.

March 1 – 7th

“Hospitality isn’t a transaction or impersonal charity; it is seeing in the other the image of God, connecting to that uniquely precious person, and giving them the space and security they need to reveal their authentic self.  The hosts also leave themselves vulnerable enough to reveal their won authentic selves.” (pg. 200)

Reflection: For members of the LGBTQ community, being our uniquely precious and authentic selves requires a tremendous amount of courage and vulnerability.  Coming out is not something that happens once, but rather countless times a day.  This can be exhausting.  How can we as people of faith work to ensure our hospitality is one that creates “space and security” for others and not a hospitality that is “transactional” or “impersonal charity.”  The gift we give to one another by seeing, naming, and caring for each other just as we are, precious and authentic, is life-giving hospitality.

Prayer:  Creative and boundless God, may you give us each the courage and vulnerability to live our lives as our precious and authentic selves.  Give us continuous opportunities to create the space and security for others to do the same.  In your many names we pray. Amen.

March 8 – 14th

“Open-handed generosity and caring for the poor and marginalized as if we were caring for Jesus himself are extensions of our worship.” (pg. 175)

Reflection: Extending generosity with an “open-hand” means it will require strength and practice. Open your hand and hold your arm. How long can you hold that position before your arm starts to tire and you need to rest? For those living in the margins of our culture and church who often find themselves in a posture of open-hands and arms stretched out waiting for generosity and care from others to ensure their needs are met, this position is not sustainable. What can we be doing as people of faith in our daily lives to build and strengthen the muscles required to provide and receive generosity and care?

Prayer:  God who lives in all places, we pray for the strength to be able extend “open-handed” generosity and care to all those who live with you in the margins. May your Spirit give each of us the endurance needed to live with open hands and extended arms as we reach for one another in generosity and care knowing that when we do so, it is an extension of our worship. In your endless endurance we pray. Amen.

March 15 – 22nd

“Hospitality connects us to a place, because while hospitality can happen pretty much anywhere, it has to happen somewhere. Hospitality requires proximity, and by definition, proximity implies nearness in space, time or relationship – all of which assumes certain limits. Accepting the boundedness, we begin the work of turning space in to a place of belonging.” (pg. 205)

Reflection: Let us all breath that in. Hospitality connects us to a place, place to proximity, proximity to relationship, and relationship to belonging, so in this end hospitality equals belonging. I have heard all too often people wondering in the life of the church “Why isn’t there more diversity in the Lutheran church?”, maybe to answer that question we should look at how a church extends hospitality. As the ED of ReconcilingWorks I am often invited to speak about the work of the organization, but the majority of the time, alongside an invitation is a disclaimer and request for me not to be too liberal, or too gay. There is a fear that by me showing up as my whole and authentic self, speaking to groups about welcome, inclusion, and celebration of LGBTQ people and their families, that I might upset someone who is not able or comfortable to name my identity with value. How can we be authentic and vulnerable in our belonging with one another when hospitality is extended with an asterisk and a spoken expectation that the person being welcomed can be present, but only if they fragment their identity for the comfort of others? How can we as people of faith stop requiring others to be less than whole in order to belong?

Prayer:  God of all wholeness, may your Spirit blow strong and wrap each of your Beloved up tight, so all are able to move in the world as a whole person in courage and vulnerability. May we never be required to leave a piece of who you made us to be at the door in order to experience hospitality/belonging. In your endless name we pray. Amen

March 22 – 28st

“‘The myth of scarcity,’ as Walter Brueggermann has named it, is useful for subjugating peoples, and for helping the rich stay rich, and the powerful stay in power. This mythology is rooted in the fear of losing wealth, power, and privilege, which has led to gruesome results throughout human history.” (pg. 161)

Reflection: All too often I experience the church functioning and living from a place of scarcity. Living from a place of scarcity creates an inward facing posture. If the church is fearful there are not enough funds, rostered leaders, membership, diversity, or growth it makes me wonder where their focus and time is being spent. If hands are busy clinching pennies and minds are filled with ideas of there will never be enough, how could any organization or congregation’s actions go beyond their own front door? At ReconcilingWorks we believe that God calls all people Beloved, that the Holy Spirit gives a diversity of gifts for the common good, and that Jesus Christ calls us to work for justice. LGBTQ people and the diversity of this community’s embodiment offer the church a gift is has not yet fully embraced. How can we as people of faith stop functioning from a place of scarcity and turn out into the community knowing the key to the life of our church exists in those who have been pushed to live the margins?

Prayer:  God of life and hope, in the gift of this day remind us that our hands are not meant to clinch pennies, but rather be used to work and care for others, remind us our minds are not meant to fear, but rather dream of your greatness. Help us to move from scarcity to abundance in the way we see people, creation, and the life of the church. For all that you are we give thanks, AMEN.

March 29 – April 4th

“The words translated as ‘hospitality’ or ‘hospitable’ in the New Testament are often variations on the Greek philoxeina, which literally means ‘love the stranger.’” (pg. 199)

Reflection: “Love the stranger.” This is a beautiful translation and understanding of what hospitality and hospitable mean. When I think about hospitality, I imagine preparations for a party, gathering, meeting, for people who I have extended a personal invitation. There is little mystery in who I need to prepare for. But maybe that is where I and the church are missing the literal meaning of hospitality, love the stranger. What would it take for the church extend hospitality and love the stranger? How could hospitality and love be extended to those in the margins if the church broke the cycle of portraying the Divine as a straight, white, man? How can we as people of faith ensure our worship spaces, services, and leaders are intentional about how the expansive diversity of the Divine is reflected in the life of the church. What images, words, and songs would need to change for all people to see themselves in the life of the church?

Prayer:  God of radical love, hospitality, and welcome. May you give us the courage to prepare a place in the church for those who we have yet to meet. May you teach us how to be radical and authentic in our hospitality, but truly loving the stranger. In your endless names we pray, Amen.

April 5 – 11th

“One final fragmentation that should be named is a church’s unwillingness to extend welcome and hospitality to any particular group of people, especially on the basis of their race, ethnic origin, economic class or sexual orientation. Any theology that refuses to extend hospitality fails to consider God’s love for and the reconciliation of all humanity.” (pg. 113)

Reflection: Whoa, go back and read that again. Have you ever been refused hospitality based on a part of your identity? How did that feel? As a member of the LGBTQ community, I have been refused hospitality by people in the life of the church that people connect with scripture and theology. But, it is in scripture that I have learned I am fearfully and wonderfully made and am named Beloved. In Matthew 22 scripture tells us “34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” As people of faith we are only reflections of the Divine; therefore it is not our place to decide who has access to God’s love and welcome. What would it look like if we truly lived out the two commencements Christ gave us? Would it change the way we are church together?

Prayer:  Beginning and end, past and future, Holy one who is in all things; we pray this day that we will know what it means to welcome and love the stranger through intentional hospitality. May we each be given the eyes to see those our church and culture leave behind, the wisdom to care for them, and the soul to love them. We pray this in your endless name, AMEN.