A Church Funeral can be a Moment of Radical Hospitality.

I was sitting with Warren Hartley earlier today, the leader of Open Table at St Bride’s Church Liverpool. We were designing a lecture that we are giving together to a group of students training for ministry. The topic of the lecture is ‘Ministry and Evangelism’ and particularly focuses on churches for those who are excluded or on the margins.

We were sharing some of our lived experiences of Open Table ministry when Warren mentioned the words ‘radical hospitality’. I had a moment of instant recollection.

When you sign up to join the Tsedaqah Community the very first thing you receive – as you would normally with any job or voluntary role – is your role description and working agreement. At the bottom of my role description is written “the key principles that our community lives by: radical hosting, social justice, sharing skills, loving neighbour.”

I have been wondering about the difference between hosting and ‘radical hosting’.

Warren helped to explain that radical hosting is not just about making someone feel welcome or inviting everyone to become a part of your community. Rather, radical hosting is about hosting another and allowing the other person and each person in the community to change and shape you and your community.

It is the difference between ministering to somebody and having a ministry or community which is for everyone and which is contributed to and shaped by everyone.

Being a radical host requires opening yourself up to vulnerability, to diverse and new experiences; it involves moving with contexts which can be sometimes difficult and challenging. Being in community involves being in a reciprocal relationship continually giving of yourself and taking back for yourself; growing in yourself and with the people around you.

Recently, I was able to assist Director of the Good Funeral Company, Rev. Juliet Stephenson with a Church funeral and burial. It was there that I was able to see radical hosting in action.

The work of the Good Funeral Company is outstanding and hugely important in improving the experience of those who choose to have a Church funeral. The Good Funeral Company exists to ensure that Christian funerals minister for everyone. They offer Christian funerals which are personalised, accessible and available to everyone which celebrate a person’s life and uniqueness in the eyes of God and also offer prayer and blessing.

Experiences of Christian and Church funerals are not always positive. If a funeral service becomes focused on ministering to and evangelizing to people and rarely mentions the person that has died, the service can be inaccessible and feel irrelevant.

The Good Funeral Company is a radical host because it places supporting the family and loved ones of the person who has died first, offering a service which is shaped entirely by the family and loved ones.

In turn, the Good Funeral Company is also supporting churches – at this particular church, we worked very closely with the churchwarden who helped set up and was able to give me a cue for starting the music as the coffin entered by pressing a red light above the organ!

The funeral was attended by over 100 people and Juliet beautifully wove the words of the family and the story of the person who had died with moments of poignant reflection and laughter, prayer and music (which was an eclectic mix of The Hollies and Maroon 5).

The place of burial was Greenacres in Rainford. Though it was muddy and windy, it was such a beautiful place. It is a natural burial site, which offers memorials that blend into natural surroundings in a stunning green park including planting trees, bird boxes and wild bird feeders. It is a beautiful park open to visitors all year round. I stood in my black buttoned-up cloak during the burial service and shouted across the winds with the people gathered at the graveside, Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows…”

Greenacres natural burial ground in spring

It was a moving experience to be able to be part of this occasion and to speak into it those words of Psalm 23 which I think really sum up radical hosting – that God that is with us, alongside us, in the dark valley preparing the table; even in the presence of darkness and in the presence of our enemies, we are anointed and our cup overflows.

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