Remember [THIS] quite provocative post about whether or not we charge for refreshments? Which side of the fence are you on? Which side is your church on? Think the matter is all wrapped up? Think againâ€¦
A friend and fellow colleague of mine from the Diocese of Leeds, has plenty to add to the â€˜after service hospitalityâ€™ debate, but sheâ€™s looking at it from another angle. Not the cost, but the quality.
Iâ€™d like to share her article with you, to see whether these thorny issues exist in our churches here in the Diocese of Durham. Let me know what you think in the comments section. Perhaps the debate about after service refreshments has only just begunâ€¦
Jo Beacroft-Mitchell writes:
â€œEver had one of those conversations where you thought you were talking about one thing but it turned out that what you were actually talking about was something else entirely?
Twitter went a bit manic today when a seemingly innocuous discussion about Coffee and its general quality in church uncovered a seemingly bottomless well of discontent and frustration â€“ which it turns out isnâ€™t really about coffee at all!
The collective conversation which ensued is too lengthy to repeat here â€“ suffice to say that the potential for a book exploring the subject in-depth was mooted as a possibility. But in a nutshell the flow of the conversation went something like this:
A Rev. Twitter buddy of mine was in trouble with member or members of her church because the coffee being served at lent groups had been switched from instant to â€˜proper coffeeâ€™! Trivial, yes? We thought so, and had a brief titter â€“ but then, someone else asked â€“ why the concern over such trivial matters and why do they seem to blow out of all proportion so very often?
And why, while we are on the subject, is the coffee generally served up by churches so woefully awful? Lots more people seemed to join the throng, observing that not only was the coffee generally awful, but the tea and biccies were usually fairly low rent too, and while weâ€™re at it â€“ why do churches insist on sticking up badly designed posters all wonky on scruffy looking noticeboards, whatâ€™s with all those old piles of dusty parish mags at the back and why, in short was the church so generally determined that â€˜thatâ€™ll doâ€™ would do?
As the conversation continued it seemed the original problem arose because â€˜properâ€™ coffee was all too expensive and that whilst â€˜young folkâ€™ could fritter their money on such frivolity as â€˜posh coffeeâ€™ the church ought to be above such pointless frippery and stand up forâ€¦ what exactly? Bland, second rate beverages?
So now we see â€“ this isnâ€™t about coffee at all! this is about piety! self denial! we are shonky and a bit amateurish because it is what God wants! Away with your warm hospitality, we donâ€™t want to offer the best we can afford to our brothers and sisters, even less to occasional visitors â€“ what God really wants is for us to offer a grudging mug of luke-warm sludge and a broken digestive to our guests â€“ right?
Erm, well, not exactly. The Bible is fairly clear on the subject of hospitality â€“ my current Bible studyÂ planÂ covers passage after passage in the OT commanding Israel to offer the best of their hospitality, to welcome all comers with the very best they have to offer. Jesus didnâ€™t turn water into any old cheap plonk â€“ He saved the best for last. The prodigal son does not return to a warmed over Pot Noodle.
The Bible exhorts us again and again to treat others with the generosity, love and welcome that we would wish to receive â€“ why? Because when we honour each other we honour our Creator â€“ because â€œwhen you do this to the least of these, you do it to meâ€.
So what are we saying when we offer less than the best of ourselves? Whose money, exactly, are we saving? And what message does our welcome give about the Gospel we proclaim? Are we guilty of perpetuating an image of the church as cheap, scruffy and deteriorating?
There is much more to be said following todayâ€™s discussion â€“ about how this â€˜second best is good enoughâ€™ attitude spills into our financial stewardship, about attitudes to change and attitudes to the young, about Fair Trade, about our image of ourselves and of God â€“ but for now I would like to exhort each of us with the words of a fellow Twitter user @crimperman: â€œLets give up bad coffee for Lent!
Letâ€™s throw open our doors, welcoming all comers with warm and open arms, tidying up a bit and putting on a decent cuppa. Given the cost of Good Friday Iâ€™d say a couple of quid on a packet of Fair Trade Costa Rican was a small price to pay.â€
Wow. Tough stuff to hear, perhaps. But does Jo hit the nail on the head? Is this about us being a bit slack, or thinking decent refreshments are too much of an expense? Or is it something else? Perhaps weâ€™ve just never really though about it before.
Weâ€™re so comfortable in our churches that maybe we fail to see what visitors see. Maybe weâ€™re just so used to the lovely cups that Mavis donated in 1992, that we no longer notice the chips in them or that none of the saucers match. Not because we donâ€™t care, but because itâ€™s never crossed our mind to question it.
If first impressionsÂ doÂ count when weâ€™re trying to welcome new folk, and show off how generous and loving God is,Â perhaps what Jo writes is a timely reminder to have a bit of a Spring (OK Winter) clean and do something about the quality of our refreshments. What do you think?
You can read Joâ€™s other posts about stewardshipÂ here.