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Lunchtime Conversation “Becoming a Hospitable Guest in Worship”

Sep 30, 2013

Panel discussion on diverse worship, importance of being a hospitable guest

A crowd of 60 gathered in Schlegel Hall today for a conversation about ‘good guesting’ at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Led by Dr. Gerald Liu, visiting professor of Worship, a panel of faculty and staff shared their thoughts about how becoming a hospitable guest is a key to establishing and celebrating diversity in worship. The lunch was first in a year-long series of community conversations presented by the Seminary’s Doors to Dialogue program. 

Regarding attending worship services that may be different from our own faith traditions, Liu said, “Good guests always seek to show appreciation and display kindness. As a Christian, to me that means trying to bring the peace of God with me, every time. Hospitable guests make it a point to show the mercy of God. They ask: what is God doing here, and how?”

“How do you become a hospitable guest when you’re uncomfortable, when the service causes you pain that’s deeply personal, when you’re fearful?” asked Elana Levy, a third-year MDiv student. 

Dr. Debra Mumford, professor of Homiletics and associate dean for Student Academic Affairs answered by saying, “It’s okay to have expectations as to how you can plan to be treated during a worship service. You should feel free to leave if you’re uncomfortable. You can make the choice to worship somewhere else.” 

Liu followed up by saying, “Being a hospitable guest should not be framed as having to accept what makes you uncomfortable. It’s more about coming to a place where you’re creating mercy in those situations. When things are insulting, offensive, evil, ignorant… they’re typically unintentional. Being a hospitable guest doesn't mean becoming a doormat. And it’s not refraining from saying no, but it’s learning how to say no.” 

Lauren Mayfield, chapel coordinator and director of the Seminary’s Women’s Center, shared thoughts on what it means to be comfortable in worship. “When we go to church where we've always gone to church, there’s spiritual, emotional, relational and geographical familiarity. When we branch out and go somewhere new, we get uncomfortable, we analyze things, we wonder if we’re even worshiping the same God. It’s hard to engage in the service and in worship when you’re uncomfortable. Giving yourself permission to be uncomfortable and keeping an open mind will help you leave those new spaces realizing that maybe you did, in fact, encounter God there.” 

Mumford invited the audience to consider being both a hospitable guest and a hospitable host by “putting our actions where we claim our theology is. Being hospitable goes beyond welcoming people. Hospitable hosts include all of the people of God which builds the faith of even the people who may have been members of a certain congregation or church for a long time; it nourishes their faith and answers the questions of who God is and what God is doing in the world” she said.  

Professor of Theology, Shannon Craigo-Snell, and Associate Professor of New Testament and Director of Black Church Studies, Lewis Brogdon, shared stories about the evolution of their personal worship. 

Because Craigo-Snell’s theological education forced her to scrutinize worship, it became difficult to attend the same services she’d attended since childhood. “I became analytical. I felt so sorry for the pastors because I was a horrible person to have in worship,” she said jokingly.  A much-admired colleague of Craigo-Snell’s at Yale, where she taught before coming to Louisville Seminary, saved her from her ‘inability to worship’ by teaching her to love all forms of worship.  Likening worship to Thai food, Craigo-Snell said that “there are some things in life of which you grow to be a connoisseur. Thai food wasn’t one of these for my colleague… she liked it all. This is how I've grown to feel about worship.” Craigo-Snell has become a hospitable guest when it comes to worship and welcomes all opportunities to worship God. 

Brogdon echoed Craigo-Snell. Growing up, Brogdon was shaped by the Pentecostal Holiness tradition. Throughout his adult life he’s participated in, and led congregations from, the Church of Christ, United Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian traditions. He has seen first-hand how narrow-minded people can be when it comes to experiencing difference in worship. “We have discredited God by the ways in which we allow the process of socialization to determine where we worship, who we worship with and how we worship,” he said. “What it means to be a hospitable guest is to be a student of history. Understand that every time you step into a worship space, you’re stepping into history. Have some context on who you’re worshiping with, their approach to the sacred and the holy… authentically engage.” 

Brogdon advised that the first step is to believe that there’s more than one legitimate way to worship. “Ultimately, the way we worship is our theology. We need to cater to one another and have mutual dialogue, mutual respect. We may not always agree with those who worship differently, but we can always respect one another.” 

Professors Cliff Kirkpatrick and Kathryn Johnson contributed by re-framing the guest vs. host relationship. “What I struggle with are these images of what it means to be a ‘hospitable guest’ and a ‘welcoming host.’ I struggle because Jesus Chris is the host, always. We are not guests, but the body of Christ.” 

Of ‘welcoming hosts’ Johnson said, “No one is the host in church, Jesus is the host. We are all guests together.”

This luncheon was first in a series of luncheons Doors to Dialogue will host this academic year. Watch www.lpts.edu for information.  

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