The Hospitality of God
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves from the USA Episcopalian Church and Bishop Michael Perham from the Church of England set out on a pilgrimage to discover the sacramental emerging churches within UK and USA Anglican tradition.
The book provides inspiring stories of how the fourteen churches visited created beautiful sacramental worship with a postmodern culture. They discovered that a ‘hospitality’ which laid stress on God’s desire to be welcoming, hospitable, inclusive and inviting was the major common trait to all the churches. The book goes on to explain the diverse ways these emergent churches upheld the tradition of beauty within Anglican liturgy. Some churches stretched traditional Anglican liturgical and theological norms others breathed new life into ancient practices. The variety of ways churches expressed specific elements of the liturgy such as music, the word, prayer, and Eucharistic prayers and gestures were explored. The authors also revealed the creative, less tangible aspects of worship such as the architecture, new ritualistic gestures, and the expectation that belief grows through participation.
If creativity, empowerment, and engagement resonate with post-moderns then the strength of the book is its ability to inspire the imagination of post -moderns interested in creating authentic worship. There are obvious limitations to this book, most of which are recognized by the authors. It is a book written firmly within the Anglican tradition and at times the disapproval can be heard in the voices of Bishops who are charged with maintaining the orthodoxy of the institution. Also as ‘outsiders’ there were times when the reader wishes to hear more from the voices of the insiders. Not simply those in ‘leadership’ or ‘curators’ but the average participant who comes in with little or no faith.
Worship was the focus of the book yet, as the authors noted, the importance of the sense of being ‘missional’ communities was a common factor in these churches. It would have been helpful to understand how the leaders and participants in worship understood their worship itself as ‘missional’. Did the emerging churches create worship that was meaningful to them as post-modern people and therefore feel comfortable in inviting those outside of the church culture. Or did they more intentionally create worship that outsiders would ‘enjoy’ or find ‘meaningful’. These important questions were left unexplored.
On the whole those involved in creating worship, engaging in evangelism within a post-modern culture, and those who seek to curate worship experiences will find this book stirring the creative juices. Even if you are not Anglican!