The Revd Dr Paul Chilcote says ‘a wide embrace’ has always characterised Methodism and, taking our cue from Jesus, we make room for all.

One of the most exciting aspects of the time in which we live is the rediscovery of Christian practices and a renewed understanding of their purpose. Spiritual disciplines create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy and presence of God may be experienced. These practices are means of grace – safe spaces in which our loving God embraces us. Practices defined early Methodism. To use a more contemporary language, John Wesley laid out a ‘rule of life’ for the early Methodist people. He never viewed rules and regulations as an instrument of control, rather he conceived spiritual disciplines as instruments of liberation and empowerment. As in all other areas of Wesleyan theology, grace pervades these practices, and a wide range of works of piety and mercy shaped early Methodists as a people of grace and love. Ultimately, those practices in which they engaged became ways by which Methodists participated in God’s work of love, grace and shalom (peace) in the world.

Welcoming the stranger

The Wesleys invited their followers to engage with them in ‘the practice of making room for all’. Think about this as a critical Wesleyan practice that fuelled the Methodist movement. Was it a work of piety or a work of mercy? Actually it was both. To make room for others entails some serious interior work. It involves making space in your heart for those who may be different from you. It means asking God to change your attitudes and transform hostility into hospitality. It also involves exterior actions – opening your arms to those around you and offering compassion to those in need. It means asking God to teach us how to create a safe space for those who are outside, inviting them into the inner circle of our love. Given the pervasiveness of this practice among the people called Methodist over time, a ‘wide embrace’ has always characterised our tradition. The Wesleys most certainly exercised a ‘preferential option for the poor’, with many people from the margins finding a home in the Methodist Societies. The Wesleys made room for all sorts of people in their burgeoning movement. There was room for all: rich and poor, educated and illiterate, women and men, black and white. Each generation of Methodists has taught this practice to the next generation. It is not too much to say that ‘making room for all’ is in our nature. Wesleyan theology provided the foundation for this practice of inclusion. Bishop Brent’s well-known prayer identifies the origins of this hospitable spirit. The Lord Jesus “stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.” Methodists make room for all because Jesus makes room for all. For the Wesleys, being ambassadors of reconciliation entailed reaching out, welcoming and embracing. They believed that, through this ministry of hospitality, the world comes to know that God is love.

Hospitality is part of holiness

The Wesleys viewed hospitality and inclusivity as critical practices in the quest for holiness. In fact, these are essential elements of holy living. This call to holiness has always been a central theme in Methodism. What makes holiness in the Wesleyan way unique, however, is its clear emphasis on a holiness of love: love of God and love of neighbour (all creation). Holiness is all about love. Holiness means restoration. Holiness means being like Christ. Holiness means radiance. The shining lives of God’s restored children have a critical role in the unfolding of God’s reign – to make room for all as a people of wide embrace. At the table of the Lord we see this practice of making room dramatically enacted in the worshipping community. In the sacrament of Holy Communion we live the parable of inclusion. We say, through our actions, that we want every person to know to the very fibre of their being that they are welcome. One of Jesus’ most consistent practices was eating with new people in new ways. More often than not, this included those who were excluded and oppressed. Charles Wesley perceived the connection between inclusion and our family meal: “Come to the Supper come . . . Every soul may be his guest” (Hymns on the Lord’s Supper, VIII). As we engage in the Wesleyan practice of making room for all and celebrate around the table, we capture a glimpse of God’s beloved community in which all are welcomed and all are loved.