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Churches just don’t DO hospitality well. They may think they do, but they don’t. Yes, there is coffee hour, and the potluck, and all those fellowship opportunities, like Quilt Club, and Men for Christ, and Youth Group, but that isn’t hospitality either.
Hospitality is about caring, giving and healing. It isn’t friendly chat and shared coffeecake. It goes far beyond that, and right into sacrifice and humility.
What would Jesus Christ NOT do for you?
So go and do likewise. That is hospitality.
Hospitality is more than a handout. It isn’t the food bank, the soup kitchen or the homeless shelter. All of these are aspects of caring, but it isn’t what hospitality is about. It certainly isn’t hospitality when the providers go home each evening to a nice snug home with lots in the refrigerator, and plan their next ski vacation. There’s no sacrifice in that. That’s hospitality as a diversion, a bit of guilt-assuaging.
Could you give everything to Christ? Could you give everything to those in need, knowing that Christ told you to do so? (Matthew 25:31-46). The poor will always be with us, first because we let them be poor, and second because in them we serve Him who we love.
Hospitality is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan had no obligation to the victim of the robbers; he nonetheless put himself in danger, gave healing medicines, provided for his housing and food, and came back to check on him.
So the question isn’t “What am I obliged to do here?”, but “How much can I help? What is needed?”
The church too often falls into asking just the first question.
Treat every guest as if he were Christ; treat every stranger as a guest. (For some thereby have entertained angels, Paul’s reference to Abraham and the three men who came from the desert.)
When strangers enter your church, what do you do? Turn around, stare and check them out? Do you whisper, “Who are they? Does anyone know them?” Or does the usher show them a suitable place to sit, as honoured guests? Does anyone sit with them to guide them through the service and hymns? Are they greeted by many after the service, and invited to share refreshments, a meal at home, their story? Or do you leave that up to the greeters and the pastor?
Do you plan shared meals with the people who visit the food bank and the soup kitchen? If you do, is it condescending, or is it a genuine desire to get to know them, and they you? Would you invite them to church on Sunday, and greet them if they come?
Hospitality toward each other is also part of the Christian requirement. Pastors and priests often suffer from the neglect of their parishes and churches. They are given barely adequate housing that just meets the denominational standards, or a housing allowance too small to provide a good home. The manse gets neglected, goes unpainted, isn’t refurbished but once every twenty years, and has appliances that were cast-offs from someone’s remodelling project. There isn’t family hospitality extended, and clergy and their families are often isolated in their own communities, ignored by their own parishioners. They don’t know who to call on if they are sick or have an emergency. They pay for services that most families give each other freely, such as babysitting, dogminding, or gardening.
I was blessed in a parish that treated me like a member of the family. My rectory was well-kept and very comfortable, even if small and unpretentious, which suited me. The parish members would cook for me, help with my animals, and welcomed me into their homes often. I so miss them! If I were to retire somewhere soon, that would be the place.
Our priest or pastor is an elder in our church family. It isn’t a healthy family that works against its own elders, or undermines their authority, or refuses to help them when in need. In a family we would call that dysfunctional. How we treat others says a lot about our relationship with Christ. Do we serve Him in others, or are we serving ourselves, and therefore never serving Him?