I'm more than grateful to Alton Abbey for the community’s generous hospitality, friendship and understanding to my friends and me this week. Community in itself is a slippery one. Politicians use it as a warm fuzzy buzzword. In fact community is real human beings sharing their lives together — an unsentimental thing, a way of life.
The Rule of Benedict says real hospitality is a key part of discipleship. Chapter 53 requires religious to receive others as Christ who said “I was a stranger and you took me in.” It’s all about recognising Christ in others as they are — something that has to be worked at; something intentional, not just a matter of luck or happenstance. This rather flies in the face of the modern habit of referring to any group of people who share any cultural background or sociological characteristic, whether they acknowledge it or not, as a “community” (“The Gay Community” “The Muslim Community” — what gay community? what Muslim community do people actually mean?) That habit, in itself runs a risk of cheapening and impoverishing real community.
Perhaps, in the spirit of the blessed Forrest Gump, community is as community does. One reflection from this year at Alton, and experiencing true community, warts and all, is to see how important generous hospitality is to the whole Christian enterprise — a radical and intentional acceptance of diversity in the face of a homogenizing and uncaring world. This kind of living offers future hope, not only for religious houses, but for the whole world.