by Debra Paxton-Buursma with Becca Brasser, Shanna Pargellis, John Booy, Mark Ponstine, and Mark VanZanten
|The topic of hospitality and the Christian life floods books, blogs, conferences, and conversations. Scholars revisit biblical hosting of angels and Medieval pilgrimage inn practices, sip tea from east to west, and critique Martha Stewart in defining hospitality. Hospitality metaphors influence school websites, orientations, and curricula. A hospitality theme that included practices of “knowing and being known,” emerged across school data as integral to Christian learning communities. The sacrament of communion nourishes connections between hospitality and instruction, including “being known” through practices of encounter and embrace.
Learning Hospitality at the Table
In Sacred Space Pedagogy, learning communities are welcomed and nourished as a natural extension of communion. Eugene Peterson calls us to imagine how “the Eucharist, in which we remember and proclaim salvation in Christ, spills out of the sanctuary chalice and flows into the details of our common lives” (212). How might communion’s essential truths—coming broken yet fully loved, freely forgiven, and freshly refueled—spill into learning sanctuaries? Schools developed learning communities in ways that seemed rooted in central features of communion (see “Grace in the Midst of Missteps”). We saw and heard about metaphorical communion markers such as a table loaded with donated bakery bread, which flanked The Potter’s House entrance. John Booy, head of The Potter’s House school, spontaneously spoke of communion as a metaphor for community-building:
Our opening day of school is . . . a worship session—it’s like communion with each other. We intentionally say, you are going to . . . be uncomfortable at times, but . . . everyone [has] the freedom to bring what they have to the table.
Communion invites and welcomes all to shed self and receive Christ’s saving grace. The table provides a collective sense of belonging through uncommon humility, counter-cultural equity, and freedom. Hospitality routines boldly invited all members of school communities into belonging by being known through “communion” practices of encounter and embrace.
Encounter and Embrace
Practices of encounter invite others in. Invitation begins with learning and using names. This kind of naming counters common forms of bullying (such as name-calling) by welcoming others into learning spaces and saying, “We want to get to know you; come learn with us.” Invitations also welcome individuals into a collective identity through named spaces. As articulated by Shanna Pargellis and Becca Brasser at the Mustard Seed School, naming practices humanize encounters, opening a space for safe belonging through “knowing and being known”:
Our focus is on knowing each student, knowing our colleagues, knowing our practices and procedures, knowing the spaces we work in, knowing our learning community. We invite children into classroom space, and many of these classrooms have a name connected to nature: sky, rocks, water . . . strong metaphors which can capture the imagination, and inspire and nurture a connection to creation. It gives each class a unique identity, rather than being named as 1A or 1B or being identified by a teacher’s name. Each learning community . . . develops its own identity, . . . building a climate of trust, creativity, collaboration, and community among the students and teachers—all part of knowing and being known.
Knowing and being known is essential before risky learning encounters can take place. Getting to know the learners was initiated through greeting routines or, in one teacher’s words, making a connection every morning. This knowledge was deepened amongst teachers through shared, professional conversations about students, with rubrics and thickly-worded learner descriptions as aides. As one administrator put it, parents have said, That teacher knows my kids better than I do.
Encounters that deepen relationship through the practice of sacrificial love-acts support mutual growth. Barbara Brown Taylor challenges us not to make people our projects but to respond with caring community. “To encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control . . . to become that person, even for a moment, is to understand what it means to die to yourself . . . at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of the faces of God” (93, 94). Teaching encounters that lovingly embrace vulnerability in knowing others and being known open a sacred space for God’s sacramental activity. Listening and prayer both emerged in our educational conversations as practices that embrace how being known can build a sense of belonging.
Peterson, Eugene H. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. Eerdmans, 2005. Print.
Smith, David I., and Susan M. Felch. Teaching and Christian Imagination. Eerdmans, 2016. Print.
Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived Hurricane Katrina. Scholastic, 2011. Print.
Taylor, Barbara B. An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. HarperCollins, 2009. Print.