The Mercy Of Hospitality

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Have you ever had the experience of "after church coffee." In particular, have you ever experienced the "I'm standing here by myself, sipping this cup of coffee (or tea or juice), hoping that someone will notice I'm new here and talk to me because I feel like a giant wart on someone's nose - obvious but polite people pretend not to notice."

Oh, you haven't. I give thanks to God for that, truly.

Unfortunately many people have experienced this - myself included! I actually went to two different churches recently and had mediocre "coffee social" experiences at both. The first church I had been invited to speak at, so I assumed that when I stood alone sipping my water after the service it was because I had given a bad message. (We all have weaknesses). After awkwardly mingling with me, myself and I, I pushed myself to go around and chat with other people, but I felt out of place, and not really welcomed.

The second church I visited was one I had been to several times before. I was greeted warmly by those who knew me, but generally avoided by those who didn't. I stood by the stage, speaking with those to whom I was connected. At one point I turned to my right and noticed that a woman was standing beside me. She was one of those timeless women, I couldn't tell if she was 18, 28 or 38, though my guess would be in her early/mid twenties. Though I took notice of her, I didn't do anything to make her feel welcomed. As a visitor myself, surely it wasn't my responsibility! I turned back to my conversation, but couldn't avoid checking back on her. No one approached her. She stood beside me, but wasn't included, and no one else was reaching out to her. When I couldn't take it any longer, I turned my full attention to her, and asked her how long she had been going here. She said she'd been coming for a number of Sundays, but didn't know anyone. I felt sad. I listened to more of her story - new to Canada, in a new job, nannying just up the road... she was a woman aching for community, and she came here. I ended up introducing her to a few of the folks I knew - because I wouldn't be back the following week, and I couldn't leave knowing that she had gone another Sunday without meeting anyone.

Hospitality is a strange thing. It can take many different forms as it's expressed through different people and in a variety of situations. Lately I've been thinking about hospitality as an act of mercy. Mercy for the person who is alone. Mercy for the person who feels uncomfortable in a social setting. Mercy for the person who needs assistance. In the Form for the Ordination of Deacons it states:

Deacons serve by showing mercy to the church and to all people. They received this task in the early church when the apostles designated special persons for the work of mercy (Acts 6; 2 Cor.8-9). In Christ's name the deacons relieve victims of injustice. By this they show that Christians live by the Spirit of the kingdom, fervently desiring to give life the shape of things to come. Deacons are therefore called to assess needs, promote stewardship and hospitality, collect and disburse resources for benevolence, and develop programs of assistance. They are also called to speak words of Christian encouragement. Thus both in word and in deed deacons demonstrate the care of the Lord himself.

As Deacons we are called to offer the mercy of hospitality. I challenge you this week to step outside of your own comfort zone. If you have an after church coffee time look for the new faces, for the fringe people, for those whom the Spirit is nudging you to connect with. Have a conversation, welcome them into your life, invite them for tea or coffee at a later date, listen to their story. Giving the mercy of hospitality regularly will not only change the lives of those around you, but it will change you too. You will reflect more deeply Christ in all your daily interactions.

Tonight I sat in the sunshine on the front steps of my house after work. The neighbours across the street were welcoming visitors. The whole family was outside, including their young son, maybe 3 or 4 years old. He was running back and forth from the group of chattering people to the garden where the sprinkler was. I couldn't help but smile at his exuberance. Suddenly he noticed me and came to an abrupt stop. "Daddy - look! It's peoples!" he yelled. The father looked my way, somewhat awkwardly, and tried to ignore the situation. But the little boy kept staring, and then called out, with a big wave, "HI!"

I hope in our hospitality we become like the little boy, who, unaware of "appropriate social norms", noticed, stopped, and boldly welcomed a stranger into his reality.

May God bless you in your hospitable endeavors! 

Posted in: Deacons; Blog Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/huckfunn/6187094761/in/photostream/ Image: See Credit

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I had a similar experience at a church once. I had preached for them that morning (I was pastoring nearby). After the service, nobody approached me. I suppose we could blame it on the message or the style in which it was delivered. That might also explain why I felt very awkward when I tried to join a group of people. But what if it wasn't the message and it wasn't me? I do remember leaving there and thinking, "How would a guest feel?"

The solution, I think, is for one person to start changing how they interact with guests. I watched my mom for years. She would find the person standing alone and go talk to them. She would invite people over to our house for dinner. She would write cards and show care for them. Now - 30 years later! - I look for the person who is new, alone or looks like they feel "out of place." I know, there are many others that I could be developing deeper relationships with. But as a quieter person, I know how hard it is to stand alone.

There are some of us that honestly believe we do not have the "gift" of hospitality, because we are shy or introverted. Passages like I Peter 4:9 - 10 (Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.), with the instruction to offer hospitality in place directly alongside an exhortation to use whatever gift you have received seem to support this idea, but careful reading of the passages addressing hospitality make it clear practicing hospitality is a call to all believers, not an encouragement for those with the gift to practice it. Accepting this changes everything: it is NOT someone else's "job" to be hospitable -- it is the call of every believer. That should impact how we engage visitors, folks new to the fellowship and folks that appear lonely or out of place. I am not totally at ease approaching new/unfamiliar folks, but believing it IS what I'm called to do helps me take comfort in the belief that God will bless the effort.

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