The construction of the Threshold Project has begun in earnest. The church is open for ‘normal service’ which will be our mantra for the next seven months or so. As we see the project take shape, I have been reflecting on the future of this building – what is its purpose? How might it be a shared space for the use of others? I have always been clear that the Threshold is about hospitality, offering the church to the people who it is designed to serve – the local community. How this might be achieved successfully, whilst maintaining prayer and worship as our core vocation, will need some creative thought and action.
The word ‘hospital’ lies benignly within that wider term, hospitality. ‘Hospital’ originally comes from the Latin hospitalia, which means an apartment for strangers and guests. In early Christian times, it is more a place of hospitality than of medical treatment, a place where strangers and pilgrims were received and cared for. So, this is how I see the Threshold Project developing in the future – a space of hospitality, welcoming the stranger and the pilgrim.
One of the key parables which Jesus taught was about the Good Samaritan. Here we have a Samaritan, reviled by Jews and, presumably by the Jewish man who was robbed, assaulted and left for dead. And yet the Samaritan cared for the injured man, spent time with him, led him to a safe place and paid for his care and recovery. We are told that the Good Samaritan led the injured man to an inn, a place of safety, health and care. We don’t know any details about the inn, but it is a wonderful metaphor for the Threshold, a place of recovery – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. Could the Threshold Project contain the virtues of hospitality? Could it be a place of meeting along the pilgrimage trail? Could we dare to keep the church open as a place of welcome that people might enjoy and celebrate the beauty of St Michael’s?
These are questions which have, in part, been answered. Three years ago, we embarked on a community survey, “At the heart of it” which questioned people both inside and outside of the church community about what they felt were the priorities for the church in the future. The conclusion was fairly remarkable:
“In the context of its role in the local community, the church perceives itself to be a place of welcome, providing space for specific needs. Looking ahead, it sees engagement with the local community as a strategic priority, in particular becoming a bridge between the sometimes fractured communities of Summertown, Cutteslowe and Waterways, providing social and educational programmes for all ages. In terms of the west end proposals, the survey prompted a wide variety of uses for the narthex area (and beyond) including the provision of counselling/advice/therapy workshops, a place for befriending and fellowship.”
There is a picture emerging here. A building called a church which, at the heart of its mission, offers hospitality, a space for pilgrims and strangers to share. What an exciting prospect! Thank you to all the people who have helped shaped this vision.