I have spent this week in retreat in what some might call a Motherhouse, but here in outer South-west Berlin, they call it a Heimart Haus – a home. Think of four stories, including basement, the size of the old Goodwood Orphanage – quite a home! These are places where, in days gone by, single women lived together in a ‘sisterhood’ of support. Many were nurses. They live lives caring for others, the story of the Good Samaritan being their guide. Florence Nightingale was said to have been influenced by them.
Sandy and I are living in a refurbished second floor room while she attends meetings of the World Diaconate. The photo shows some of these Deacons – from Germany, Switzerland, Finland and Sweden, England and Africa. I am using the week for writing and reflection.
Today I had a conversation about the church and the state with a deacon. One of her comments was that the church had to learn to be a guest in the world, to overcome its tendency to want to push itself on to others. I thought this was relevant to our thinking about hospitality.
So I wonder what qualities and behaviours make a good guest? And how might they be any different to being a good host?
Being a guest requires us to allow the ‘other’ to serve us, show us hospitality and be in control. This is often hard as we like to be in control and we like to feel the ‘power’ of serving rather than being served. The power dynamic operating here can be hard to see sometimes as we so often talk as if serving others is ‘powerlessness’ in action but I am not convinced this is right in many situations. Receiving from others can be humbling and challenging. As to the church being a ‘guest in the world’ I would want to think about that some more. I take the point about ‘pushing ourselves onto others’ but wonder if guest is a helpful way of seeing the relationship…
A good guest knows when it is time to move on, and does not outstay their welcome. Hospitality is a ‘grace-full’ dance in which both parties acknowledge the need for the gentle to and fro of giving as well as receiving.