Monday, September 24, 2007
RevGalBookPals--"Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality"
Hello, RevGals and Pals!
Our book for September is Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality, written by Caroline A. Westerhoff. The author, a former senior consultant with the Alban Institute, uses personal recollections and stories of church life to illustrate her thesis that we cannot welcome people into our lives or our churches without having a clear idea of what sets us apart from them.
The book comes with a discussion guide for church groups interested in exploring their own attitudes about and practices around hospitality. I hope you will take a look at them as well as the following questions:
1. My own church is currently seeking ways to live into four areas identified in a visioning process. The first two happened to be Identity and Hospitality. When church members asked for help with Hospitality, I suggested that they needed to be clear about Identity first, and this is Westerhoff's supposition. What is your response to the Boundaries First/Hospitality Second paradigm? Is there more to Identity than Boundaries? Or is there another metaphor that might feel more helpful?
2. How important is the distinction between essentials and non-essentials in your understanding of boundaries?
3. On page 87 of the paperback edition, Westerhoff describes the participation of a group of visiting Buddhist monks who came to the rail for Communion at her church. What was your response to this story and the discussion that took place after? Do we control the eucharist? Are there "levels" of hospitality?
4. If you have had a chance to do a unit or more of Clinical Pastoral Education, you have heard a story like the one of page 98. A student feels distressed after baptizing a baby who had already died, conflicted about what baptism means and whether it was appropriate in this case, but also certain that the parents needed pastoral care in this form. How do you respond to this case study? What might you have done in the student's position?
5. The epilogue of the book contains a lengthy story about a church's process in choosing to fence in its property. Please share your reactions.
6. Westerhoff calls on Jesus' self-description as a "narrow gate" in support of her thesis that our boundaries must be clear. Where do you think Jesus would draw his lines?
7. In Chapter 5, Westerhoff refers us to the baptismal covenant as a means to test our boundaries. Does this feel like a helpful tool?
8. Westerhoff admits that others are better-suited than she to certain practices of hospitality. How do you strive to *be* a neighbor in your own neighborhood? What are the challenges of being a neighbor?
I'll share more thoughts in the comments and hope you will do the same.