By Guest Columnist Beth Foose
We often think of ministry as pastoral care or Bible study or running a food pantry or preaching, and, certainly, those are ministries. But sometimes ministry is simply gracious, humble and heartfelt hospitality.
Christian hospitality is moving through the ordinary days and events of our lives in a posture of welcome and readiness to meet the living God in each and every person we encounter. Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger, because community with others enriches all life — ours as well as those we welcome. Through our connections with one another, we become more connected to the God who created us all.
I have long been drawn to a fifteenth-century icon by Andrei Rublev of three angels seated around a table — two on either side of the table and one behind the table from the viewer’s perspective. The icon, entitled “The Holy Trinity,” invites us to consider how the very essence of God’s being is one of dynamic relationship. On the original icon, in front of the table, there is a spot. Art historians speculate that the spot is glue which once held a tiny mirror. The viewer of the original icon could have seen her or himself in the mirror and thus have come to understand his or her participation in the essence of God. One way we live into being part of that image of God is through hospitality.
As St. Benedict writes in his Rule, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for He himself will say, ‘I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.’” Certainly, hospitality is a concrete expression of the love that binds us to God and to each other.
In October and May of each year, we meet many strangers here on the streets of Canton, many of them toting bags filled with crafts. Some of them pushing strollers. Some of them hungry or thirsty. All of them in need of hospitality.
When the Canton Flea Market began decades ago, a small group of friends who wanted to share their art and cultivate community gathered around the Square and welcomed friends and neighbors — both near and far — to come be part of the Canton arts experience.
Early on, Grace Episcopal Church joined the celebration with its Flea Market Plant Sale. Things have changed a lot through the years. The small, festive gathering has grown into a huge event. The Flea Market extends for blocks beyond the Square, with hundreds of vendors and thousands of shoppers.
Flea Market days can be a source of dread or delight for those of us who live and work in Canton. Maybe some of us fret about the streets being closed and how we will get to work on time…and others of us can hardly wait to watch the rivers of people course through our streets to peruse the wares of our favorite vendors.
Although many of us have “done” the Flea Market for decades, I hope that this October, by God’s grace, we can shift our perspective and come to see the Flea Market as an ever-new opportunity to extend holy hospitality to the people who visit us.
After observing the growth and changes through the years — and growing and changing a lot ourselves — the Grace Church Flea Market Committee has decided to return to the original values of the Flea Market, which we understand as being appreciation of creativity and hospitality.
At the October Flea Market, Grace Church will be reconfiguring our booths into an open square, so that shoppers can feel welcomed into the Grace Church spirit as they visit widely spaced and open booths. We will leave plenty of green space for folks to visit, rest and even picnic.
This building is thought to be the oldest functioning church building in Madison County. The interior is beautiful and a Canton treasure. Because we want to share the treasure, the church will be open during the Flea Market for those who would like to visit the historic space and have a few moments of quiet.
Let’s all join together as persons of faith in extending hospitality to our visitors, remembering that we are welcoming Christ. And, if you know of folks coming to the Flea Market, please encourage them to visit our vendors and to make themselves at home in the lawn on the east side of the little white wooden church with the red door.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Reverend Beth Foose is the Rector of Grace Episcopal Church. She lives with her family in rural Leake County.