Film / Book Reviews

Bringing hospitality to places


Imagine this scenario: Two friends, both Christians, catch up at a Christian conference. Between them stands a stranger, also Christian. As the friends converse, they “speak through” the stranger, as if he is not there.

This was a real-life experience for Rev Ivan Tan when he attended a seminary in the United States. Rev Tan, who is currently a pastor at Fairfield Methodist Church, recalled in his newly published book, Hospitality and Growing the Church, that sitting between two friends as an “invisible” stranger, he felt “very awkward and unwelcome … like an alien in a strange land”.

Fortunately, his time in the US also saw more hospitable moments, he recounts in an interview. These included an impromptu lunch invitation extended by a couple from church, warm gatherings he hosted in an international house for foreign students and an inspiring teacher, the late Professor Christine D Pohl, who “taught and embodied what it is like to live in true community”.

Since then, Rev Tan has been passionate about hospitality and in his words, he hopes to “bring hospitality to places”. His recent book is an outcome of this, where he reflects on his eight-year pastoral experience at Living Hope Methodist Church, which saw its membership grow amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. He attributes this gracious irony to the church’s spirit of hospitality.

Even while sharing helpful pointers in his book, Rev Tan recognises that a mere change in outward behaviour is insufficient. “In a sense,” he muses, “hospitality cannot be taught. You cannot teach people to ‘do these things’ and then [expect people to] become hospitable.” Acknowledging that awareness is both crucial and prerequisite, he seeks to raise it by looking at the early church. Specifically, he identifies the range of strangers welcomed, our Lord’s perplexing choice of friends and the distinctive familial metaphor used to describe the early church.

A note of caution: a reader looking for a quick fix will be disappointed. The book, with its many reflection questions, seeks to spark an examen. Practical application will require critical thinking and innovation. Bishop Dr Gordon Wong’s exhortation is apt: “Let’s read Ivan Tan’s book on hospitality for ideas and inspiration on how to pursue it!”

As Rev Tan intends the book to be simple, the many ideas within are only briefly addressed. Those interested to delve deeper can refer to the book’s bibliography, which includes Rev Tan’s recommendation of Dr Pohl’s Making Room and Living into Community.

Hospitality and Growing the Church
By Ivan Tan

Available at SKS Books Warehouse and Wesley Methodist Church’s BookNook.

The e-book is available through Biblical Graduate School of Theology at

Bringing hospitality to places2

Terence Chua is a Local Preacher at Living Hope Methodist Church. / Cover art courtesy of Rev Ivan Tan