My future life as a guest began this September
Coming away to theological college to begin training as a minister in the Methodist church may not make everyone think of party-language.
I had many questions from friends and families about our ‘Fresher’s week’ – what exactly would Methodists do during that…. during what may conventionally become a whirl of parties and maximised alcohol consumption?
Like all guests I arrived with a whole host of questions – ‘What will it be like?’ Who will be there?’ ‘What will my hosts ask me to do / not do?’ and, ‘Will I enjoy it enough to want to stay?’
And, of course, my baggage. No, I’m not using a metaphor, I mean literally my baggage. Two car-loads as it happened, plus a few extra purchases once we were settled in. So I would have to add ‘Will I have enough…?’ or ‘What about my….will I need that here?’ to the list of questions and anxieties around moving here.
If this were an ordinary move you could expect me to talk about settling in, making the place feel like home etc. But for the Methodist church the commitment to training for ministry usually also involves a commitment to itinerant ministry. Which basically means going where the church decides they want to send you, for the rest of your service.
So for me the question has also been “Am I getting used to not settling down?”
Anyone who has lived away from home for a limited period of time will have experienced what we have been adjusting to; it’s just that our ‘coming home’ now seems so far away – with potentially so many moves in between – that it is hard to see homecoming as tangible enough to put expectations around. It is a far-distant event.
The folk here are kind, inclusive and great listeners so in the immediate context of living as a community I feel very much ‘at home.’ But embarking on this new chapter has helped me to see two new aspects of ‘guest-ship’ – – one personal and one with wider implications.
Firstly, being transient in this way has reminded me how actually the most important
things in my life are transportable. For many people two car-loads may not sound a life lived lightly. Those things have made my stay here comfortable but none are essential. My faith travels with me. My lovely wife. A few photos of my family.
These things come with the main proviso – that ‘the host’ is welcoming! As long as those I am coming to are welcoming, affirming and inclusive there is little else one needs. The only reason I might want to fill my life with things from home is if I didn’t feel welcome to take part in the community here and had to build a little castle of my own.
Secondly we have been challenged already with new ideas of how we relate to God in our post-modern Western culture. Not surprisingly perhaps, one that has stuck with me the most has been the possibility that it is time for the church to re-discover its ‘guest-ship’ – both in relating to the environment and to its role in society.
Too often the church sees itself as ‘host’ – we do a lot of ‘inviting in’ – which carries with it a whole set of associations that we may not be aware of – or want.
I find Jesus understood ‘guest-ship’. In fact, the religious leaders of the day condemned him for being at the wrong parties and a guest to the wrong hosts throughout his ministry.
“…the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” Matthew 11:19
To be sure I am drawing these in simple terms. Some of us in the U.K. are able to be both guest or host in a range of social situations. But as I begin this stage of guest-ship and continue unpacking what it means to be more knowingly dependent upon others in my experiences, I hope I can come to hold more lightly any sense of entitlement or possession.
To be ready to accept what is given rather than to always be in the position of being able to choose.
And perhaps encourage others to join me, without deciding in advance who that might include.