So, I’m in the Chicagoland area to do my DMin stuff and I find out that there’s an Indian restaurant near by. I’d never been to one so I thought I’d go check it out. I looked over the map, went to the car and started driving. That’s about when I realized I had forgotten the map. So, as usual, I got lost. As I was driving around, I found a nice (and later found out very expensive) Mexican restaurant. Being from southern California, I love Mexican food. And I also hadn’t had it for a while. So I figured I’d go and enjoy a nice meal. All. By. My. Self. I didn’t think anything of it at all.
I enter into the restaurant right behind a nice couple. I kept my distance from them a little bit so I wouldn’t get mistaken I was with them. The hostess comes to the couple and asks “How many?” The couple answer “Two.” The hostess looks me up and down, looks back at the couple, and then takes them to their table. And then I stood there all by my lonesome. I stood there for a little bit too. Now, I’m not hard to miss in anyplace I go to. Being about 6 foot 5 and that night wearing a very bright Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans, I couldn’t be missed. But I seemed to have been forgotten.
I’m not sure how long I waited, but finally a waitress came up to me and asked “Can I help you?” Not, “how many?” not “Would you like a table or a booth?” just “Can I help you?” I looked at her nicely, smiled and said ‘Yeah, I’d like to eat.” She looked me up and down and then said “Just one?” Me: “Yup.” So she grabbed a menu and walked me into the main part of the restaurant. She looked around puzzled where to seat me. She found a lone table, one that would showcase me in front of everyone else, and sat me down. I waited for a bit and then a man brought me chips. He wasn’t sure at first until I said “Thank you for the chips.” He paused for a moment and then took away the other plate, napkin, and cutlery that were on the table.
It took a while for the waitress to come. She looked me up and down and asked “Are you waiting for someone?” Me: “Nope.” I put down my menu and looked at her and smiled. She looked at me not sure what to say. Then she reverted to a normal routine “Are you ready to order.” Me: “Yup.” And then it went from there.
I think they might have thought I was a secret shopper or a food critic because I saw her go and speak to a few people and all of a sudden my service got really good. The food was delicious. But the whole time I felt awkward. It brought back memories to another situation where I was all by myself.
I had just come to Grand Rapids to go to Calvin College. I came fro a church plant background where it was come as you are. We sang songs that were put up on the screen through an overhead projector (that within itself is a story to be told, but that’s for another time). So, when I went to college away from my home church, I knew I needed to find a place to worship.
I went to a near by church one of my first Sundays there. I walked in wearing what I wore to my home church–blue jeans and a T-shirt. I walked in and everybody was wearing shirts and ties and even suits. My home church started when it started and ended when it ended. This church had a start time at 9:30. I got there about 9:25. I didn’t know at that time you were supposed to come 10-15 minutes early to get your seat. I was met at the entrance to the worship center by an elderly gentleman wearing a suit and tie. He looked me up and down, not sure what to say or do. “How many?” he asked. “Just one.” I answered with a smile. He looked me up and down once more, handed me a church bulletin, and started walking up the aisle without saying a word. I hurried to follow him. There were many seats available in the pews (I later learned what they were called) but he took me up, in front of everyone with their eyes looking at this young college kid wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, all the way up to the front pew where even the most devout fear to tread.
I sat down, feeling awkward. I felt out of place. I felt like I was a spare part they didn’t know what to do with. After the last song was sung, I left. Never to come back.
Hospitality comes to mind. The Mexican restaurant is in the hospitality industry really. They are to give an open welcoming place to people who want to enjoy their south of the border cuisine. Churches really should be the same way, offering a welcoming place to truly hear the gospel message.
I love what the author of Hebrews says:
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
As a church, are we truly offering hospitality? Are we truly offering a welcoming space to allow people to come in and feel welcomed and not put on display? Are we able to be a place where people can come in and not feel like a spare part no one knows what to do with?
In theory, no. In theory, we need to be welcoming, throwing open the doors, allowing all to come in and feel at home. In practice, how are we at this? How are we showing hospitality to the stranger and visitor who walks through our doors?