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Hospitable Listening - PWM Conference

The recent Partnership for World Mission (PWM) Conference under the theme: “Hospitality – a way into understanding Mission”, attracted a wide range of church workers within the Anglican Communion. Although the Conference “traditionally” hosts mission and development officers from the dioceses in the Church of England, this year’s conference also had many link partners, who were invited to come and share and inform the practices and understanding of hospitality in their particular and various contexts.

The partner churches represented included mission agencies, dioceses and churches from countries such as Botswana, Canada, Estonia, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malawi, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Portugal, Tanzania, Uganda, USA, and Zambia.

The choice of the theme was to coincide with, and help the Church of England in its preparation to offer hospitality to more than eight hundred Bishops from the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion and their spouses, and many other delegates who are attending the 2008 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. The Conference was therefore timely and significant.

The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, the Bishop of Southern Malawi, and also a member of the Lambeth Conference Design Group, was one of the keynote speakers, and made two presentations on Hospitality that listens, and Hospitality that transforms.

In his presentations on Hospitality that listens, Bishop James passionately talked about how offering hospitality is not a matter of choice but “a gospel imperative…and as such there is no choice but to do it.” God has given us the gift of hospitality, and like any God’s gift, so that we may also offer it to others. God is by nature a hospitable God – he hosts us in His world. 

In reference to the current tension in the Anglican Communion, Bishop James acknowledged that hospitality in the time of tension is not easy, as hospitality becomes suspect. He however maintained that we are called to be hospitable, whatever the situation.

Reflecting on Genesis 18, the story of Abraham and Sarah giving hospitality to three “strangers”, Bp. James brought out the importance of listening in every context of hospitality – listening by both the guest and, especially, the host (who may be entertaining angels!). As in the Genesis story above, more often than not, guests tend to have something to share (often truth and peace), which may easily be missed if the host does not listen. Indeed Sara (as Abraham) new this and she listened attentively (behind the curtain!).

Listening is and must be mutual in the context of hospitality, as it provides a wonderful opportunity of giving and receiving on both sides. It is because African fore-bearers had listened to the first missionaries, that many people heard and received the gospel. Equally, it was because missionaries listened to the languages and accents of the African people, that they understood the languages of the people they lived among. It was in that mutual listening that the gospel was proclaimed, can and will be proclaimed adequately. With mutual listening, there will be no fears of patronising (superiority and inferiority complex!).

Like hospitality, listening is equally a mandate because God listened and indeed continues to listen to his people - when they pray, when they talk to him, and when they ask him to intervene.

Both listening and hospitality are therefore important ingredients of God’s mission, in which we are not spectators but participants as guests and also as hosts!

Bishop James emphasised the fact that hospitality is and can be demanding, especially that it sometimes (if not often) has to be offered in the context of strangeness - strange languages, strange accents, strange cultures, strange colour, and many strange things! Strangeness or/and difference, Bishop James cautions, should not be considered “evil and hindrance to relationship” but rather celebrated “as a gift and opportunity” to share the gift of hospitality – the charism.

It is “when hospitality has opened doors for listening” that “we all get a chance to hear the other’s story as it is…It is through hospitable listening that our mission takes direction and respond to the challenges and opportunities expressed therein as we participate in God’s mission.”

 

By John K. Kafwanka
Research/Project Officer – Mission & Evangelism

December 2006