My fourth grade Sunday school teacher, Mary, would greet me every Sunday at the classroom door with the words, “Timmy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” Then with a welcoming hug, she would send me into the classroom to meet other classmates who had gathered. As I entered the room I would hear her say, “Nancy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” When I would look back she would be hugging Nancy and sending her into the room to meet the rest of us. Mary greeted us as if she had been waiting all week for us and as if we were the most important people she knew.
She modeled hospitality. She acted out what she taught us in class. I remember her lesson on Jesus touching a leper and the story of Jesus receiving a woman that was sick. I will always remember her saying that we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.
As important as it is, hospitality is more than a gesture of welcoming people to worship. Hospitality is a sign of offering hope.
Four Ways to Extend Hospitality
Here are four practical ways you can offer hope by extending hospitality:
1. Become a Learner
Seek to understand instead of teaching. Mary was interested in who we were as people. She knew our
parents, our siblings, our school, and what we received as gifts for Christmas and our birthdays. She took time to learn about us as individuals, even though we were 10 years old.
Seeking to learn or to understand could be as simple as getting to know your neighbors. Learn their names, their needs, talents, and interests. Show an interest in them as a way of building relationships. Soong-Chan Rah writes, “In the household of God, we are called to a humility that places our relationships in a new light.”
2. Learn the language of the community around you
Although Mary worked for the town collecting money for water bills, she took an interest in us. She learned our 10-year-old language, attended special events at the school, and gave us gifts that challenged us to become who God would have us be.
Learning the language of the community could mean learning the language of teens and young adults. It could also mean to communicate with a Hispanic population, Congolese or Vietnamese population, or another population centered in one part of your community. Attempting to learn the language is a sign of hospitality that brings hope.
3. Share a meal together
Several times a year, Mary would bring a meal to our Sunday School class. As we ate, she would tell us how Jesus invited people to eat at his table. Once when we did not have enough room around the table in our classroom, I remember her words, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” With those words, she added an extension to our table.
We extend hospitality when we bring children, teens, and senior adults together. How could you create cross-cultural connections with another congregation or with other groups of people in the community? What would happen if you offered to provide the food they liked and gave them the opportunity to prepare it for everyone?
4. Examine and Evaluate
Examine and evaluate how you are inviting and welcoming people into the building and into worship. Mary always greeted us at the door, in the hallway, outside the classroom. She always made sure there was a place for everyone around the table.
Where do you greet people coming into the building? Is there a place for everyone who enters the space?
In regard to worship and/or events in the building, are you prepared for people who do not know the routine? Do the announcements include outsiders as well as the insiders? What is the format of the printed bulletin? Does it assume people know the Lord’s Prayer, how to respond following the reading of scripture, and/or how to pray before worship begins? Just simple acts of hospitality are signs of hope to those being included.
A Prayer of Hospitality
As you are working on the four practical ways to extend hospitality, practice praying, “Lord, send us the people no one else wants” and “Help us receive the people you are sending to us.” When you do, you will find the above suggestions helpful.
Remember, we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us. I am convinced that when you extend hospitality, you can expect your church and community to experience the beauty, complexity, and love that comes with being Jesus followers.
Let us welcome one another as God in Christ welcomed us. Your hospitality is a sign of hope.