Some people are just good at gathering people together. They call on people and the people come. This seems to be what leaders can do – or, rather, are those people who can gather us together our leaders? People gatherers have an attraction and an authority. Whether we call a meeting or throw a party, we are acting as people with authority, people able to call on others. Most people can grow that authority, usually by the attractive way that they gather people. Conversely, we have all been in gatherings which have been so carelessly organised that we have said “never again”. There’s usually a reason why “nobody came”.
Neighbours Table tells the story of a people gatherer. In an interview with Tammy Helfrich (available as podcast), Sarah Harmeyer talks about her recent life as a “people gatherer”. She adopts a word for the year. Word of the Year 2011 was “community” which brought a vision for inviting 500 people to her table during the year. At the point of the interview, she is nearing 1500 for the 3 year period on a budget of $75 per month. She started with an invitation to a “pot luck” delivered to her neighbours. Her father made a table to seat 20 – 91 came. She suggests that people are waiting to be invited, that whole neighbourhoods are waiting for such catalysts for change, for people to step forward.
Her “manners” can guide us all. “Plan ahead to be present with people”, develop a culture of mutual respect, interest and listening, introduce people to one another by saying what you love about them – all that makes for a good time gathering. So, pause for thought. Why do we call people together? Are they just instruments to our ambition, pawns in our little games? Are we prepared for them? What is our interest in their offering? Do we know them? Do we love them?
There is always a reason why “people come flocking”.
I was intrigued by ideas of hospitality and celebration whilst watching Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 last night. I was wearing my metaphorical priest’s hat. Jamie gets everywhere on TV. The British public loves him for his energy and commitment. Last night’s programme focused on my home city, Leicester. Jamie’s comments began by highlighting the prospect of Leicester becoming the first UK city where the majority of the population is non-white. Jamie’s glass is definitely half-full and last night’s programme saw him at the asian veg stall on Leicester market and in the kitchen of Amita Mashru’s Gujerati restaurant eager to celebrate what immigrant communities have brought to us and our cooking and to celebrate the British achievement of entertaining different food cultures, and the spices of our foods picked up from different corners of the world.
Hospitality and celebration are central functions of ministry and defines the people of God, including Jews, Muslims and Christians, and other faith communities. Trace Hathorn reminds us that hospitality defines the people of God. He writes:
The call to welcome the stranger is anchored in the Torah and was a part of themeasure of the Hebrew community’s faithfulness to God. When a traveler came totown, they waited by the well, and it was incumbent upon the townspeople tohouse and feed the visitor for the night.Of course, these travelers were rarelyfamily. … They were aliens, often foreigners, people who had different foods,different clothes, different languages, different gods. Opening one’s home wasrisky. Today we’d describe such a thing as out and out foolish. … Suchhospitality was central to the Hebrew identity. The risk did not define thepeople; their hospitality did, for they knew such hospitality was central tothe character of their God.The same was true in the early Christiancommunities. Paul reminded the Romans to offer hospitality to the alien, and inthe Letter to the Hebrews the people were reminded to show hospitality to allfor in so doing some entertained angels unaware. In Acts, the early deaconspracticed hospitality throughout the community, bringing welcome to those inneed. And in Matthew’s community, hospitality still measured the faithfulnessof the people. Welcoming prophets, righteous ones and disciples (those whomMatthew called “little ones”) was a disciplined practice of the young churches.
What seems to make Jamie such a good host and celebrant is his joie de vivre, the love of his subjects and his love of what people bring to the table. He seems convivial and congenial. Life tastes both bitter and sweet to Jamie’s palate, but his joy in that concoction is infectious. Being entertained and fed by Jamie is intriguing and is challenging my own hospitality and how I play the role of host.