Do your church members think of themselves as hosts or as guests?
This question was posed to us by Henry Brinton during the Open Space portion of our May 2018 Presbytery meeting. His question comes from his upcoming book: The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality.?
The question resonated with me. I had arrived at the meeting after spending three hours helping a complete stranger tackle the boxes which were stacked triple-high in her living room. I have a side business helping people clear their clutter. She is determined to conquer all the loose ends which are crammed in these boxes, and which have taken over her life.
To me, clearing clutter is a spiritual practice because it creates space, which is essential to the spiritual life. When our lives feel like a jumble, it is difficult to open our ears and eyes to what the Spirit might like to do with us. Can we address the Big Questions when we have trouble with Where are my car keys? Can we invite the Spirit into our lives if we have to first clear a path to the front door?
Because clearing clutter is spiritual work, my heart is soft when I approach it. I feel the Spirit moving through the process, just as I might during a time of counseling or prayer. Clutter is often the residue of painful areas of our lives. Clutter reminds us of failures and unfinished business. Clutter represents projects or relationships that used to be important to us, but are no longer part of our lives. Clutter weighs us down.
When we begin to clear the clutter, the Spirit stirs up things that need to be resolved. In that sense, the work is painful. But if we are courageous, clearing clutter can be a tangible form of confession and absolution. It can create a spacious place for the Spirit to work. It can be incredibly liberating. A side benefit, of course, is that clearing the clutter creates a more pleasant living environment and also makes a space ready for guests.
Henry’s question ?. . . Are you hosts or guests at church? . . .? made me realize the connection between clutter-clearing and the work of the presbytery.
Clearing clutter is the work of a host. No wonder so many churches are bad at it! Hosting is hard work. It must be constantly repeated. Think of the tasks a host performs to be ready for a dinner party. Prepare the meal. Set the table. Light the candles. Empty the trash. Repeat.
What are the equivalent tasks at church? Recycle the unused bulletins. Shred the obsolete financial files. Purge the kitchen cupboards. Tidy the toys in the nursery. Repeat. When these tasks are accomplished in a timely way, it shows. The space is ready for guests, and is consistently presentable.
Cluttered space sends a clear message, whether or not that message is intentional. Clutter says that we are preoccupied with our own past–our messes, our failures, our unfinished business–and are unready to welcome our future, including guests.
Here’s another post on Church Clutter.