“Hello, I’m Miriam, I just wondered whether you’d ever seen anything like this before?”
That was my opening question as I shook the hand of the forty-something year old lady on the door of the auditorium. I was at a conference for church leaders and an extended time of worship and prayer ministry was going on at the front of the room, with hundreds on their knees before God. However my attention couldn’t help but be drawn to the conference centre staff, standing in uniform at each entrance point, with no option but to look on at the activity of the gathering.
I wonder what a church leadership conference looked like to them?
How were they experiencing the worship? The prophesy? The few on the floor flat out? The hundreds in tears as the call to be reminded of Jesus’ love set off explosions of life inside the hearts, minds and guts of the weary, the called, the brave?
I was near a door and thus near one such centre employee, so I decided to introduce myself. I figured the point of Christians gathering is to share Jesus more effectively for those yet to know him, so given that there were at least eight people dotted round the room who weren’t part of the gathering’s delegates, surely we go invite them in, not turn our backs to worship in a different direction?
And so I met a catholic bouncer who works every day of the week either in the conference centres or as a night club door-woman (yes, I did high-five her for that). Brilliantly, having always attended her local Catholic church, although the expressions of worship and ministry looked very alien to my friend, she at least knew God existed and so was happy to see people “finding their own way” to engage with him. Made it a bit easier to explain the people crying on the floor!
Earlier I’d been sat in front of another member of staff from the centre, a girl of a similar age to me who had definitely never ever seen anything like what she was now witnessing. You could tell by her face! So I turned around as soon as people stood to worship and pray, and began to discuss why she might hear some people crying out or people with arms on each others’ shoulders speaking out words. I ended up explaining how church leaders have a tough job in the UK, and conferences like this are safe spaces where they can come together and support each other, and sometimes they express the hard stuff and the pain to God, and get reminded of God’s love for them.
This experience nudges me to keep my eyes open and notice the people around me.
It is brilliant to gather as believers, it is a blessing and encouragement to go all-out in worship and prayer and learn together as the church gathered. We love a good student service with a decent band right? But even in these moments, the short, snappy, clear cut command of Romans 12:12, “Practice hospitality”, is still the call. When we switch on to God-things, we don’t switch off to hospitality towards others, defined as: “the friendly reception and treatment of guests and strangers”. Ideally, the two come hand in hand don’t they?
I leave you with these questions: have you ever had a church gathering in a non-church space, like a student bar, lecture theatre, or a coffee shop in town? And have you ever thought about the staff present and "practiced hospitality" towards them?
How would you or have you, gone about doing this?