Archives For Hospitality

Caring for the strangers among us

Deacons —  January 17, 2017

By Rev. Stanislav Prokhorov

Stanislav Prokhorov

Stanislav Prokhorov

Samara (Russia) United Methodist Church has opened its doors to the many refugees who have come to that town seeking new lives. Deacon Stanislav Prokhorov has helped that church in its ministries to those sojourners, helping them navigate the city and government systems, find apartments, pay rent and obtain food, and receive the warmth of a caring community. Under Deacon Stanislav’s leadership, this ministry received a 2015 Emerging Ministry Grant from General Board of Higher Education and MinistryStanislav offers these reflections on this vital ministry to the community.

It is difficult to name a single challenge that the Russian church is facing. To my mind, life in Russia in general is one big challenge with constantly changing factors. The limited work of social care institutions

A child tries on new clothing that Samara United Methodist Church helped her family to obtain.

A child tries on new clothing that Samara United Methodist Church helped her family to obtain.

leaves much room for action. We can’t say that we live in the Middle Ages, not by any means. However, the institutions do not fulfil their duties. There are few NGOs, volunteers or churches who work in the spheres neglected.

There is a wide range of activities a church can engage in. For instance, they can reach out to the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics,

disabled people, single mothers, orphanages, refugees, etc. The former Soviet republics face various social conflicts and there are many people around us who are refugees or immigrants. We also must mention the conflicts in the Eastern Ukraine, immigrants from Central Asia, and victims of real estate fraud—the many who look for help outside of their countries of birth.

One year ago, thanks to the Emerging Ministries Grant from the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, our church has received support to serve people who are aliens in our land, to use the biblical term.

John Wesley spoke about social holiness in action. We see it as a challenge to act, leave the comfort of our churches and help those who are in need. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can help real people and make their lives far from home a little bit better.

Rev. Stanislav Prokhorov is a deacon at Samara United Methodist Church, Samara, Russia. Learn more about this ministry here

By Rev. Rick Tettau

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.—Psalm 16:11

Porto Alegre, Brazil, hosted the 13th Diakonia of The Americas and Caribbean (DOTAC) conference. Porto Alegre means “Happy Port” or “Joyful Harbor” in English. According to the Portuguese translator on our bus tour, the city was named after a couple who were happily married.

Extending a joyful welcome to visitors is a characteristic of those who live in Brazil. After we got settled on the bus, our guide said, “Welcome to Brazil!” His welcome to us was sincere and authentic. He went on to explain that when somebody welcomes you to Brazil it means you are always and forever welcome in Brazil. I found his words to be true throughout the conference. I gratefully received a joyful welcome with lots of hugs everywhere that I went.

Rick Tettau (far left) examines the Bread Workshop facilities in Brazil, a site that educates at-risk youth.

Rick Tettau (far left) examines the Bread Workshop facilities in Brazil, a site that educates at-risk youth.

DOTAC is one of three regional organizations in the World DIAKONIA Federation. World DIAKONIA is an association of diaconal communities around the world. At our conferences brothers and sisters in diakonia from different countries come together to share stories about servant ministry, to learn from leading educators, share best practices, and fellowship in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The regional meeting of DOTAC is a smaller version of our world gatherings.

The DOTAC Conference in Brazil opened with a worship celebration at Igreja da Reconciliação (Church of the Reconciliation IECLB). I was honored to carry the banner for the United Methodist Deacons and Diaconal Ministers. Our theme for this conference was “The diakonia of Jesus—from crumbs to full communion,” based on the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30. The conference aimed to help us see those who are feeding off the crumbs under the table and welcome them into full communion at the table of abundant grace, where Jesus Christ sits himself.

We had three speakers for the conference: Dr. Felipe Gustavo Koch Buttelli, a professor of religion at the Municipal University Center of São José, who studied in Brazil and South Africa; Dr. Rodolfo Gaede Nero, a professor of practical theology at the Faculdades EST in São Leopoldo; and Deaconess Irma Schrammel, who serves at the Heliodor Hesse Social Center in Santo André.

Overall, the speakers spoke about how Jesus’ ministry is shaped by the heavenly banquet. At the heavenly banquet we will share table fellowship, food, and an abundance of blessings. At the heavenly banquet there is a seat at the table for all. Since an open community meal is indicative of the heavenly banquet, Jesus acts accordingly in his ministry on earth: God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Since the heavenly banquet makes sharing at a table one of the main characteristics of Jesus’ ministry, it is no surprise that Jesus relates to all sorts of people at the table. There are feeding stories, dinner parties, weddings, breakfasts, and suppers noted in the Bible. All are welcome at the table with Jesus. Jesus is so closely associated with eating and drinking with people the Pharisees accuse him of being a glutton and a drunk (Matthew 11:19). On example of Jesus’ teaching on the heavenly banquet comes from the story of a father who throws his prodigal son a party upon his return home.

A challenge in Jesus’ time was the struggle against those who wanted to privatize the table. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Lazarus begs to eat at the rich man’s table, but the rich man denies him the opportunity. Likewise, the Pharisees want a closed, private table (Luke 7:39). In the early church the apostles worked to deconstruct the barriers to the table, so the blessings of the kingdom of God were not particularized. The Christian church became a place where Jews and Gentiles could eat together (Acts. 10).

The speakers pointed out how the Syrophoenician woman in the story was different than Jesus. She was a woman, non-Israelite, and a pagan worshiper. Yet, Jesus heard her story. He heard the pain in her failed attempts at receiving healing for her daughter. She admitted as much that the crumbs of Jesus’ abundance were good enough for her. Through his conversation with the woman Jesus comes to welcome her to the table and grant her request for the healing of her daughter. In this act of mercy Jesus unites the community. The community is made whole when those who eat from the crumbs under the table enter into full communion at the table with Christ.

The speakers encouraged us to consider those who survive off crumbs under the table today. They pointed out that people who feel marginalized, suffer violence, are abandoned, and hunger and thirst are all living off crumbs. Each speaker challenged us to seek a new paradigm of sharing God’s abundance. Mark 7 is an example of how an open table overcomes the fragmentation of human community. At God’s table there is plenty to care for the well-being of all people. Jesus eats with all and all are satisfied. This is authentic reconciliation. Diakonia works toward authentic reconciliation. An open table overcomes a fragmented human community. When all sit at the table of grace in the midst of cultural differences and diversity we will gain a wholistic perspective.

I saw the practice of an open table in action at two mission sites in Porto Alegre. The first mission site I visited was St. Luke House (Casa de Pasagem São Lucas). St. Luke House provides free housing to those waiting for medical treatment. Porto Alegre is recognized for being a leader in health research and services and this attracts from the countryside and even from other states in Brazil. Many of these people do not have a place to stay while they are waiting for medical treatment. For these people, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELCB) created in 2002 this residence alongside of a church. All are welcome to stay, eat, rest, and recover from their medical treatments at St. Luke House.

The second mission site I saw was the Bread Workshop. The Bread Workshop was created by St. Mark Lutheran Church in 1993. Its goal is to educate at-risk adolescents coming from local and neighboring communities offering them the possibility of generating income through working in cooperative and commercialized bakery production. The Bread Workshop teaches the art of baking bread while promoting faith and citizenship.

To help us unwind after a busy week we enjoyed a cultural celebration at the Churrascaria Galpão Crioulo, a Brazilian barbeque that offered live entertainment. The celebration of this culture night was dedicated to Nazgul “Naz” William, a United Methodist lay deaconess who was tragically killed in a random act of violence in China two years ago.

Brazil is a wonderful place with many wonderful people. From the beginning of the conference until its close after Sunday worship I felt the warm welcome of the Brazilian people. This experience of hospitality along with the teachings on our theme reminded me of what it means to be fully included as a guest. As we are all guests of Jesus at the table, this conference gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for hospitality in the church. As our tour guide explained about the meaning of “Welcome to Brazil,” we need to live into a vision of the church where all are forever and always welcome, because the church is a place where all are loved by God and God’s love never changes. The church is a place where those who are living off the crumbs can enter into full communion with Christ at the table of grace.

Rick Tettau serves as a deacon at Faith Community United Methodist Church in Xenia, Ohio. He is an alternate on the DOTAC central committee.

 

By Rev. Amy Aspey

In his blog Do Less, Live More, Terry Hershey recounts this memorable Communion moment:

As Alan Jones celebrated Eucharist one Sunday, in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, he couldn’t help but notice a young man standing at the very back of the sanctuary. His clothing (atypical of “church attire”) and his uneasy demeanor gave him away. Alan could not tell if the visitor was entering, or wanting to leave.

Even so, the young man stood against the back wall for the entire service. As members of the congregation processed to the altar for the bread and wine, the young man waited, unmoved, at the back wall. His curiosity piqued, Alan made a point to seek out the young man. In conversation he learned that this young man lived on the city streets, that life had been unforgiving, and is now fighting a most formidable foe, AIDS. “We’re glad you are here,” Alan told him. “But why did you stay in the back of the church? Why didn’t you come down to the table for communion?”

“I didn’t think I would be allowed in,” the young man replied. (“Where Do We Hear the Voice of Grace?,” July 22, 2014).

Haven’t we all been there? An outsider looking in. Unsure if we belong. Feeling left out. Longing for an invitation. Playing the comparison game (me/them) and always coming up short. How many people in our communities and world are wondering, “Are we allowed in?”

Rev. Amy Aspey

Rev. Amy Aspey

Some of our predecessors in servant ministry (perhaps in a way the start of the Order of Deacon), Stephen and his co-workers, invited people in by extending Christ’s table out (see Acts 6:1-7). You may be thinking, where is the Table in this story? There is no specific mention of the Eucharist. I don’t believe, however, that when the Church responds to those in need, this can ever be separated from the holy feast. Perhaps, we could think of the seven’s ministry as being charged to become “living table leaves,” living extensions, in and of the Communion table.

When I was growing up, whenever our family had a large family meal, my mom always asked my dad, “Did you put the leaf in the table?”

It was critical to be sure that the extra space was added so that there was room for our guests. The leaves, those extra sections, extended the existing table so that others could join the feast.

Similarly, the heart of a deacon’s call is to live sacramentally. Ministry to those in need within the church and into the world can’t be separated from Christ’s ministry to us around his Table. Acts of compassion and justice are not separate from the Table; they are best understood as an extension of the Table.

In the text, it’s telling for our understanding of servant ministry that the seven are chosen to serve in a compassionate response to injustice. There was a growing racial tension within the church, which resulted in neglect of the poor. The Message phrases Acts 6:1-2 this way: “As the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers—“Hellenists”—toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines.” People were being left out. Differences were becoming divisive. Leaves were needed in Christ’s Table because people were having trouble living the connections between the Communion table and the kitchen table.

While proclaiming the Word was not initially an aspect of this ministry, it didn’t take long before Stephen and others were known for preaching and miracles. Perhaps, this was because it is impossible to care for the poor, to love the neglected, to offer hope to the marginalized without proclaiming the Word. The Gospel of Jesus is always good news to the poor.

In our culture that kowtows to VIP titles, celebrates climbing the corporate ladder, clamors to be part of exclusive clubs, and measures worth by material possessions, the values of Christ’s table are confusing. Extravagant grace, radical love, transforming forgiveness and open-to-all are counter-cultural. When I began to understand deacon ministry as a means for extending Christ’s Table everything changed. All of the many beautiful ways of “doing”–creating community partnerships, leading teams in mission, serving in clothing rooms, sitting at a bedside in a mental hospital, preaching in prison, connecting our community to a Freedom School, equipping people in endless ways to live out their commitment as disciples of Jesus, when my heart bridged the serving with the sacrament–these acts of “doing” became a means for being and re-presenting Christ in the world.

When we understand our ministry as living leaves, which extend Christ’s table, acts of compassion and justice become the bread of life and the hungry are fed. Works of mercy and dignity become the cup of hope for those who are thirsty and the parched are renewed. Living out the vows of Word, Service, Compassion and Justice become the means by which additional places are set and each place card reads the name, beloved child of God.

May our servant ministry forever extend Christ’s Table out so all may know they are welcomed and invited to join us.

Rev. Amy Aspey, a deacon who is director of clergy leadership development for the West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, preached this sermon to the Provisional Member Deacon Formation Event in October 2014.