“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2
“True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person.” Kathleen Norris
Four people gathered around the communion table at the front of the sanctuary — different races, gender, and ages – to lead us. The reverend said that there’s always room for one more at the table. The sacraments were passed, a young boy prayed, and we swallowed small pieces of bread and tiny cups of juice. I couldn’t help but imagine Jesus reclining at a table, a table with just enough room for one more. I’m betting Jesus always left room for more at any table.
Leaving room for one more is what Union Avenue Christian Church is all about. From this morning’s worship to the chocolate pound cake delivered by a sweet church member we have experienced the hospitality of this eclectic, amazing faith community. We were greeted last night by two people and entered our space to find a box with a “Welcome” cake, fruit, dark chocolate and more.
We were greeted with handshakes and warm smiles by church members expressing their gratitude and delight that we are here this week. And they meant it. One kind woman has made plans to provide dinner for us this week. All have made themselves available to us. In every case, every conversation, every encounter I’ve felt genuinely valued and loved. From the 15 minutes I spent talking to the Senior Pastor to the brief moments with the gentleman who kept saying, “I snuck into here 53 years ago and have never left” I’ve been embraced for who I am, regardless of where I’m from, what I look like, or where I attend church.
In my first day in St. Louis I’ve learned there’s a difference, a great chasm if you will, between being welcoming to a stranger and offering hospitality to others. Here are just a few things I’ve been considering today:
- Being welcoming makes others feel comfortable; being hospitable gives others a sense of value.
- Being welcoming invites others to know you; being hospitable opens you to know others.
- Being welcoming is often convenient; being hospitable rarely seems convenient.
- Being welcoming says, “Thanks for being here. We’re glad you came”; being hospitable says, “Sit at my table and stay. There’s plenty of room.”
Bottom line is this: while I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on being welcoming, I’ve got a lot to learn about being hospitable.