Applying Improvisation to Hospitality
The Episcopal Church is keen on Radical Welcome. We welcome all, regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey, their race, education, social status, or gender or sexual identity. All are welcome. Radical Welcome goes beyond invitation and hospitality. Hospitality says, “come, be part of us.” Radical Welcome says come and let us be part of each other. The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation Care, wrote in Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other, and the Spirit of Transformation, “Radical welcome is the spiritual practice of embracing and being changed by the gifts, presence, voices, and power of The Other.” Radical welcome involves transformation. It is not merely accommodating the other, it is saying, “Come, bring who you are. My arms are open to you. Would you open yours to me?”
Growth, transformation, change, these are scary words. We don’t know exactly how the changes will play out. That is the mystery. We can speculate and plan, but we really won’t know how we’ve changed until it has happened. It’s new and uncharted and scary. We make plans and then the Spirit moves, and we adjust. In a High Spiritual Season, Joan Chittister wrote, “Hospitality is not kindness. It is openness to the unknown, trust of what frightens us, the expenditure of self on the unfamiliar, the merging of unlikes.”
Improvisation is taking all that we have been given, and then by working together, bring forth something new and creative. The basis of improvisation is openness, acceptance, trust, and putting the team (or project or mission) above self. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Who we are together is better and more Christ-like than who we are by ourselves. Under the colonial model of evangelism, when a church reached out to a new culture or demographic it meant assimilation. Be a part of our church and you will look, and sound, and act just like us. But Radical Welcome is about what Joan Chittister calls “the merging of unlikes.”
Improvisation helps churches to think on their feet and view change as part of their story. We become more empathetic by listening to each other’s perspective. Alan Alda, actor and founder of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, says that true listening “is being able to be changed by the other person.” Most of us are not good at change, we resist it. But we can get better through the skills and practice of improvisation. We prepare to be unprepared.