Hospitality and the Church

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?

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7 thoughts on “Hospitality and the Church

  1. sister i am praying for you and brother nicholas. your posts on modesty and hospitality have been challenging and encouraging. thank you.

  2. I am so glad we have no greeters at our church and that during time of service, we have a time to greet one another, hug and shake hands. Gives you a chance to meet visitors and see church family you love so much.

  3. I want the church to treat guests like I was treated when I went to a mosque for a class assignment. I was greeted at the door and from that moment until I left, I was not unattended. Everything was explained to me, in a very loving and patient manner. Afterwards was a lunch and I was served first, because I was the guest.
    My dream is to be “that house” that all the children come and play at, to be the “domestic church.”

    • I had the same expereince in a Mennonite church. I was with a friend who explained everything to me, and I was served before the men, which was a little embarrassing, as my own (then) husband wasn’t with me. I am much more comfortable on the other side of the table – wielding the serving spoon!

  4. For me hospitality is making someone feel comfortable in a new situation or surrounding. For my kids, they view strangers as simply a friend they don’t know their name yet. This is usually both other children or even adults.

    I was at a small Mennonite church a few weekends ago. We stayed with the pastor’s family the night before and had attended church a few time with them in the past. What was remarkable was this church has normally 35-40 in attendance. However this weekend there was literally a tour bus full of conservative Mennonites and even Amish there. That meant 55 guests in addition to my family and another visiting from the local area. When they ran out of chairs, more were located and brought over. In the meantime, the regular church members gave up their seats for the guests needing seats. (It was very crowded but everyone finally had a chair) Even though I was a guest myself, I helped another guest mom’s children find their place in the Bible and hymnal. There was a shared meal for everyone. No one went hungry or was rushed. Everyone was greeted personally and made to feel welcome. It was a great time of fellowship and sharing.

  5. I’ve tried to post this several times so I’ll try one last time.

    I find that Anabaptists take hospitality seriously.The Beachy Amish-Mennonites have given me 3 veils, various religious CDs and a cape dress. When I visited they pick me up at the train station, bring me to their house, feed me and give me a bed for the night.

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