Throughout the Bible, stories are told of how simple acts of hospitality create space for miraculous and grace-filled events and interactions to occur. From Abraham's diligent and compassionate care for God in three strangers, to the woman in the Pharisee's home washing the feet of Jesus, these moments of hospitality allow for the Holy Spirit to move in and around the people involved. Healing, understanding, and love burst forth from these instances of relationship.
This past week, from July 5-7, four students from Juan Wesley Seminary in Monterrey, Mexico, joined four college interns from the West Ohio Conference for a time of exploring hospitality and discerning call. These students spent time at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and United Theological Seminary as a part of this call discernment process. Along with this, they visited leaders and participants in Horizon Prison Initiative at London Correctional Institute, had dinner with Bishop Palmer, and engaged earnestly in deep and honest conversation surrounding hospitality.
Out of these conversations, important and prescient questions were raised. How can we move beyond a hospitality of invitation into a hospitality of grace? Any person or organization can offer an invitation, but it requires a certain spirit, a certain dedication, an amount of faith to extend hospitality that becomes an expression of grace. How do we practice hospitality with people who are not able to come to us geographically? The men involved in Horizon Prison Initiative are lacking the ability to come to our churches; for some this is temporary, and for others this is an ongoing reality. How can churches display hospitality to these individuals who are incarcerated, understanding that we ourselves are beneficiaries of the supreme hospitality that is Christ's death on the cross?
Related to these questions of hospitality, the question must be asked; how much do we trust the redemptive love of Jesus Christ? The act of going into prison and engaging with Horizon Prison Initiative is always a difficult one for me. Not because I fear the prison, or the men inside of it, but because it forces me to once again evaluate my own biases and prejudices. Every visit is a reawakening to the necessity of learning to trust that people can change, that redemptive love can lead to true and genuine transformation of a person, the imago Dei, one who is made in the image of God. This is uncomfortably held in tension with the need to make sure that churches are safe spaces for vulnerable people. These are conversations that must be held within oneself, in prayer with God, and in dialogue within congregations.
Written by Dominic J. Mejia who serves as the Coordinator of the Summer Intern Program for the West Ohio Conference. He will be a senior at Ohio Wesleyan University in the fall, and attends Stone Village Church in Columbus.