Spaces of Hospitality

I am glad I arrived at the Bellfry in the evening. Had I come the first time in the day, I surely would have been awed by the breathtaking views of the mountains ringing us on all sides, the sloping pastures lined with grazing cattle, the wildflowers of yellow and purple dotting the hillsides. Had it been daytime the sunlight might have lured my eyes toward deer bounding through the woods or streams running rapidly under the bridge. Instead, as we slowly approached and crested the gravel drive, the only thing I saw was the Bellfry, its tower lit against the night sky, a silent invitation to stop and rest.

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The tower has four levels, each one summoning a different experience –

1. Welcome

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The circular welcome area at the base of the tower has a large table in the center and is ringed with chairs. On the table sits a smooth stone, with words that might be spoken by Christ himself, “Take a breath, you are home now.”

We do not wear shoes in the building, and this is the space where we take them off. Embedded in the stone floor beneath the chairs as we look down to untie our shoes, under each window, is a portion of Isaiah 61:3:

“He gives us beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,
that we might be
the planting of the Lord,
that he might be glorified.”

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The welcome we receive at the Bellfry goes well beyond “we’re glad you’re here,” moving beyond the polite handshake or cheery “Good Morning!” to a deeply spiritual, biblically grounded affirmation that it is the Lord who invites us and calls us together. We may come into the house of God covered in the ashes of the wreckage of our lives, mourning losses large and small, weighed down by the heaviness of concern, acutely aware that the world is not yet what it is intended to be. Yet we are welcomed out of the turmoil and given these amazing gifts – beauty, joy, praise – all wrapped up in the welcome of God.

2. Study

Ascend to the second level of the tower and you will be surrounded by words, inviting an encounter with the Word.

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Every part of the library space invites you to sit and linger, whether in comfortable leather chairs or at a desk underneath a bright window. A door opens to a hidden nook where children can rest and read under their own “window on the world.”

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Anselm writes that “Faith seeks understanding.” The welcome we receive from God is the beginning of the journey. It unfolds into patterns of grace and depths of mystery that summon us not to complacency, but rigorous study. A space like this moves me from the temptation of easy answers and trite simplicity toward a deeper engagement of the mystery of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ.

3. Worship

A steep staircase leads to the third level of the tower, filled with natural light calling us to worship the One in whom there is no darkness.

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We gather each morning in this space to worship, practicing Lectio Divina, holy reading of the Bible. Our prayers mingle with the sound of cicadas and crows and frogs. We read from Psalm 96 – “O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD all the earth,” and the earth itself – the trees and streams and winds, make reply outside our little room, our sanctuary set in the mountains.

Welcome and word give rise to worship. We are, all of us, made for the praise of God. We do well to remember in our entertainment satiated culture, that the worship of God is more than a few prayers, some hymns, and a sermon – it is the joyful response of a heart captured by the grace of God, embraced in God’s welcome and imbued with God’s word. Worship is why we exist. Even though we gather in sanctuaries and towers and other sacred spaces for worship, the world is filled with the glory of God, and, for those with eyes to see, every space, every encounter, every moment can give rise to the grateful response and joyful praise that is the essence of worship.

4. Discern

You have to be really intentional and do a little work to get to the final level of the tower – the fourth floor is only accessible by pulling down an attic door and climbing a precarious wooden ladder. Once there, you get the clearest view yet of the mountains on all sides, and details missed further below are suddenly clarified.

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This is a space made for one – two at most. It invites silent reflection. Here is a space where the hard work of quieting all the other voices calling to us can be accomplished. It is in this space of quiet where, by God’s grace, we might begin to understand who we are in God. Discernment is a word that is perhaps overused in our time, but I know of no better word to describe what happens here, after we’ve been welcomed, after we seek to understand, after we give our hearts in worship. To discern means at the end to listen carefully to our lives and the life of the world, to pay attention, so we might know the voice of God. It doesn’t just happen. It requires that we, in the words of Shirley Guthrie, put ourselves in the places where God’s grace has been known to happen.

Because, the beautiful, amazing truth is that God’s grace is all around, surrounding and infusing the world with strength and beauty. We only need eyes to see. It is perhaps easy to see sitting in a soft chair at the top of the Bellfry Tower with mountains all around.

How might our churches create such spaces of hospitality as this? Maybe there is no greater task of the church in these changing times than to build such towers among the people of God, in the middle of the world, places where the world might come and receive “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that we might be the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”

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2 thoughts on “Spaces of Hospitality

  1. Beautiful, thought-provoking and challenging – how to create space and opportunity for these steps in our churches as well as our lives – where all is busyness. How do we slow down and be mindful of being welcoming, studious, worshipful and discerning?

    I look forward to diving in and exploring the possibilities. Awareness is the first step toward finding those spaces of hospitality.

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