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Micah Conversation 2022: The need for conversation in Christian hospitality

Rev Ivan Tan presiding over the Lord's Table at Micah Conversation 2022

What is Hospitality?
What is hospitality? Biblical examples like the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and the good Samaritan (Luke 10) readily come to mind. As the widow offered her home to the prophet Elijah and the Samaritan went the extra mile, hospitality is often imagined in such caring terms. Indeed, these were some of the responses given when the question was first asked at the recent Micah Conversation 2022, a conference about Christian hospitality organised by Micah Singapore, held on 22 October 2022 at Singapore Bible College.

What, then, is hospitality in practice? Can hospitality take the form of “going the extra mile” without regard to the context? And if the context is critical, how does one learn the “hows” of being hospitable, especially in a foreign and unfamiliar setting? In particular, how does one extend hospitality to “hidden” communities—people groups that are less encountered and less visible. Are dialogue and conversations with people from such “hidden” communities necessary?

Fostering Conversations for Hospitality
Fostering conversations with such communities was the focus of Micah Conversation 2022. Two of these were the community of persons with disabilities, represented by Koinonia Inclusion Network (KIN), and the community of ex-offenders, represented by Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS). Through a series of workshops, these invitees shared first-hand what hospitality means for them within the Christian community, and how churches might actually be unaware of them.

Take for example, Ms Teresa Ng, a consultant and trainer at KIN whose eyesight is impaired. Teresa recounts participating in a Christian outreach event with friends who, because of her poor vision, enthusiastically “helped” her with her tasks, leaving her with little to do. While appreciating their well-meaning intentions, she raises a thought-provoking question: “If even kids are allowed to learn from minor accidents, why aren’t we?” In asking this, Teresa was referring to her experience with a form of kindness that is overt and, paradoxically, inhospitable. Yet, because such matters are seldom discussed, Teresa concludes that “we must have conversations”, echoing the purpose of the conference.

Conversations are, by definition, two-way. This was highlighted when participants were taken through a thought-exercise, led by Ms Wong Wei Heen, a training coordinator at PFS. Addressing a series of ethical dilemmas, participants discussed the intricate realities associated with extending hospitality to ex-offenders. Both the facilitator and participants heard from each other and were able to develop their opinions through dialogue. The participants learnt about the need to humbly suspend biases, to remain sensitive to varying degrees of acceptance within a Christian congregation, and to courageously act amidst uncomfortable situations. Above all, it became clear that that a Christian community that is fearful to act both graciously and truthfully is ill-prepared to extend hospitality.

God’s Hospitality
The conference concluded with a time of Holy Communion, administered by Rev Ivan Tan, pastor at Fairfield Methodist Church. Leading the participants in a meditation over Rembrandt’s famous painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rev Tan called for all to offer hospitality to an aching world, remembering the Father’s love that Christians have received. Lovingly, he challenged, “Who are the people we want to include and invite?”

Micah Conversation 2022 raised an awareness of the need for conversations, which are presently lacking, to effectively support our offers of hospitality. It is hoped that this awareness will spark a change in the approach taken by our local churches and enhance our efforts at welcoming others.

Terence Chua worships at Living Hope Methodist Church and is studying at Trinity Theological College.

Photos courtesy of Terence Chua