When I first came to Christ the Sower, I discovered a set of “vision statements” on the wall in the foyer. Although none comprised a complete sentence, they felt like fragments of a dream that someone had had for the school. I left them in place for nearly a year until we had a proper go at redefining our vision and then looked at them again. Nobody told me where they had come from (a feature of the high staff turnover in the two years before I came) – governors had had these dreams for the school, but the authors were anonymous, apparently. One phrase stood out to me, and was one that we struggled to incorporate within our newly written school vision: the hospitality of God.
This strikes me now, as then, as something vital to our purpose and calling, and I have been thinking about it in a little more depth, and in the light of Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and 15. More in a minute on this.
If anything has been learnt from all the reading I have done in Wendell Berry over the last nearly two years, it has been that there is a deep human requirement to maintain relationship at every stage of our work and life; and that the foolish barriers we have set up for ourselves between the amateur and the professional, between home and the workplace, between spiritual and sacred, have caused endless damage and have allowed an industrial mindset to permeate our work and lives, rather than giving houseroom to an agrarian standard, which finds work good and gratifying for its own sake, that finds leisure and joy in the home and amongst neighbours and that sees the local and the particular as of much interest and importance as the general and the widely applied. There has been much more that I have learnt, but this is the nub of it. Hospitality seems to be at the core of this, and a building block for creating or deepening whatever sort of community and neighbourhood it is that we are seeking to promote. And hospitality, like many other “value actions”, is rooted completely in love – an amateur standard, rather than a professional one: one that comes out of the overflow of the heart, not the rigour of a set of professional expectations.
I saw a painting today that reminded me of this relationship. It is by Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, one of the Koln Progressives, and is simply called “Stadt und Land” – town and country. He painted it in 1932 and it is one of many wonderful modern German paintings under the roof of the Museum Ludwig in Koln. Berry argues cogently that the coming of the industrial standard and its emphasis on convenience, speed and efficiency, meant that the agrarian pace of life and the values that held communities together were automatically under threat from the new petrol-driven world. His own study of the transformation for the worse of Kentucky farming since the 1945 is a case in point. This painting shows the need that each have for one another – perhaps the colour on the “agricultural” side of the painting is brighter, and the sun is there, indicating the greater need of the “industrial” figure for the farmer. I can imagine a rich hospitality coming out of this picture, but it tends to flow just one way.
So, why am I talking about this now? At the root of Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and 15, there are three values that he keeps coming back to over and again – acceptance (Rom 14:1, 14:13; 15:1, 15:7) that will lower the limits of judgment between those called to love one another; encouragement (14:19, 15:2-5, 15:13-14) so that those in the community can be empowered to keep each other faithfully serving and working; and endurance (14:19, 15:4-5) that will enable the encouragement and acceptance to take root and lead to a deep hopefulness within the community of believers Paul is writing to.
All these three – acceptance, encouragement and endurance – fall within the bounds of hospitality, and particularly the first two. Endurance seems a little more left-field until you remember how much effort is required in our culture actually to set up and perpetuate a culture of hospitality. All three are essential “value actions” that we take to create hospitality. The other one, crucially, is invitation. This is more than a card or a text, but a way of living that opens our hearts to others in a way that provides warmth and acceptance – home, essentially. The Danish have a word for it – hygge – defined as the art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive.
We have learnt at Christ the Sower that articulation of an idea or concept is key to its acceptance and use by teachers and other adults who work with us. Recently, we have kept stumbling across the idea of invitation – it was fundamental to Alison Peacock’s concept of schooling at Wroxham, and it is fundamental to our own curriculum that we are building. We invite children to learn from it.
But living invitationally as school staff, this is something else, and requires more thought. So, having lain out a primitive theology for it, and found a good (albeit Danish) definition, what must next be considered?
- Are relationships between staff to be professional or amateur? Or can they be both? Can we be familial in the way we address and serve each other? Can the equality that this implies be created, and what would be required from those in leadership to do this?
- What would homeliness – hygge – look like in a school? is it all cushions and candles or are we presenting ourselves differently?
- If work and the love of work are important to us, how do we extend the invitation to others to come join us in this work?
- What barriers exist within us as teachers that need to come down? What challenges are we prepared to countenance? Would we accept the use of our first names by parents and expect to use theirs? By children (as we already use theirs)? Would the world fall down?
- How do we speak of work? If our work is valuable to us, do we speak of it as valuable? Or do we get into the “longing for the holidays” thing? Is perhaps a monastic model more preferable – where work is honoured, where faith is honoured, and faith underpins work?
- If we are building sanctuary and community, what does this mean for homes near to us that have no children? What does it mean for local businesses? Do we have a responsibility to support them?
- What about us as adults in school – do we invite our own families into school and make them welcome? Should we? Could we?
- What about the environment of our school? If we are making our school more homely, what does this mean for the land we sit on? Should that be more of a garden?
A few years ago, I was in Paris (the famous spring when the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano grounded us all) and visited the church of St Gervase and St Proteas on the right bank of the Seine, in the Marais. It was a beautiful place to reflect and be still – French liturgy seems so much smoother on the ear, apart from anything else, and while I was there I came across members of the Communities of Jerusalem who are based there, and read and learnt about their work. This Catholic order, founded by Fr Pierre-Marie Delfrieux in the seventies, are committed to bringing solace to the city through the work of the order. There are monastic, apostolic and lay members, all committed to providing a place of peace and welcome in the heart of the city. This morning, by accident, I stumbled on the Koln branch, based in the huge church of Gross-Sankt-Martin. It was a joy to come across them again, and to be inspired again by their commitment to their work. I have no idea what this means or what I should do about it, but it seems all of a piece with what I have been thinking about. There is something about the rhythm and routine of the monastic day that fits and suits a school that is trying to find a way of being Christian, hospitable and open.
More thought to come, doubtless.