istock_000017297547smallBy Brian Hayes
Staff Writer

Our mission statement at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity declares that we are growing “to be agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion in Christian churches and other ministries.” This is a beautiful and powerful vision for our students. However, before we attempt to realize this mission “in Christian churches and other ministries,” these ideals should first be fully manifested within the Wake Div community. Before we can effectively attempt to build communities in the world based on “justice, reconciliation, and compassion,” these attributes ought to be expansively evident in our midst.

For whatever reason, it is often easier to consider how we can be “agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion” for people out in the world than for our fellow classmates. But we do not have to go beyond the walls of Wingate Hall to find those who feel marginalized and voiceless. There are people right here in our school who question their worth and think that no one truly cares about them. There are students here who feel alone and disrespected. There are students here in desperate need of “justice, reconciliation, and compassion” from their fellow classmates. If we are going to claim these characteristics as an integral part of our mission and identity at Wake Div, then they should be overflowing within our community of learners before we attempt to take them elsewhere.

One of our school’s objectives in the journey towards becoming agents of “justice, reconciliation, and compassion” is hospitality, which involves celebrating diversity and fostering accessibility for all. Towards this end, Wake Div has recently begun a Lenten series of discussions entitled “Embodying Hospitality,” the first of these took place on Monday, March 31 called “Hospitality in Community: Engaging, Listening, and Sharing as a Holy Practice.” The topic of conversation at this meeting is vital towards the formation of a hospitable community here at Wake Div.

If we are to truly care about one another in this learning community, then we must be engaged listeners. In our class discussions, mealtime conversations, hallway flybys, and group gatherings, we should seek to be fully present with the people we are with in the moments we have with them. Giving others our full attention with intent listening is one of the most fundamental ways we show others that they are valued. Deep listening in this manner expresses an appreciation of who people are, thus reflecting the essence of hospitality.

Due to the claims of our mission statement and the goals we have for our students, there should be no one in our community at Wake Div who feels like their voice is not heard. There should be no one who feels overlooked or underappreciated. No one should fall through the cracks. In the spirit of hospitality, everyone ought to feel celebrated in their identities and have equal access to the support and nurture of our community. Unfortunately, I would venture to say that this is currently not always the case.

By prioritizing “justice, reconciliation, and compassion,” the manner in which we listen to one another can be transformed and invigorated. Through this lens of hospitality, building community with our fellow students becomes the driving force behind our listening. We then listen not to respond or cast judgment, but to understand. It is only by understanding who each other is that we can truly celebrate diversity.

Hospitality should be both embodied and extended by each student at Wake Div. We ought to all be celebrating the identities of others while simultaneously feeling celebrated ourselves. We should be working to make the support of this community available to all, while also feeling intricately connected to it and nurtured by it. This experience starts with the simple acts of listening and being listened to. In light of this, let’s commit to being fully present with one another in a posture of listening for understanding. In so doing, “justice, reconciliation, and compassion” will be vigorously brought to life in our midst.