I don’t particularly enjoy Wednesday’s – well that’s not strictly true. It’s a mixed day. I have to take it as a study day, as per the recommendations, and I love studying and reading – it’s just I need to be in the mood to do so and at the moment it just seems there is a lot of stuff flying around in my head regarding the people in w/spoons, the people who gather at our house each month, missional installations in the cathedral during The Sweeps and Dickens in Rochester – all things that easily distract me from what I should be studying.
I have been looking at Benedictine Spirituality because that is the heritage we have at the cathedral. I’ve been particularly investigating it with an eye to wondering whether there is anything we can learn from Benedictine Spirituality in the way that we engage with tourists and visitors in the cathedral, particularly at those festival times I mentioned above – when we can have thousands of people walking through each day. This is essentially the question I am asking in my next essay for ongoing training.
Benedictine Spirituality is well known as having a hallmark of hospitality which I think is key and will come on to in a moment. The Benedictine rule, however, opens with the words ‘listen carefully’ and the rule seems to keep coming back to this. Listen carefully to God, listen carefully to each other and listen carefully to yourself. I think maybe the last one is one we ignore a fair bit; but Benedict seems to be quite hot on presenting the rule (of which there are 73 chapters looking at all aspects of life due to the understanding that everything is important to God) and then giving some flexibility clause with words like ‘as best you are able’, in which he seems to rely on Godly integrity and listening to our bodies to help us decide whether we can perform a particular task. The correct number of hours of sleep is also a priority in the rule in the early chapters.
So, a logical conclusion to draw from this is that whatever we try to do to engage with people during our festivals the two words we need to keep at the front of our minds is to listen carefully with a flexible approach that recognises that all are different and have a unique set of needs at any one particular time which may range from a glass of water to needing someone to pray with.
The hospitality thing is major in chapter 53. Benedict instructs ‘all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ’. That’s a pretty tall order and a very serious one. Benedict then goes on to describe how people should be welcomed: announced, prayed with, sat with, every kindness shown, the abbot is to wash their hands and feet, given a meal which is eaten with the abbot, after which they have a room with adequate bedding. I’m pretty convinced that Benedict here is reminding of the time Jesus washed the disciples feet and saying …. if you want to learn how to welcome people as Christ then you need to learn how to serve people as Christ.
How, as a cathedral that take this Benedictine rule of hospitality seriously, can we exercise that in a relevant and authentic way when thousands pass through the doors at street festival times? Is it enough to engage in conversation? should we offer to wash peoples feet? how do we feed thousands of people? Are all our visitors guests in the way Benedict thinks of them? Are we presuming all want to be welcomed as Christ; some come to find space with God, while others come to get out of the cold/heat/rain, or to see the architecture, or to learn of the history. Are all these people guests? Hospitality is not hospitality if it is forced upon those that do not want it – can we have hospitality on offer for people to take if they wish?
Thinking aloud on here seems to be helping the process. If you can help me answer any of this then I’ll have an essay nearly sorted (and you will of course be credited!)