In this blog series, WingTips has explored how the practices of truth telling, gratitude, and promise keeping create strong, sustainable communities. Successfully implementing these three actions in tandem leads to meaningful relationships and impacts the broader practice of hospitality. Author Christine Pohl describes hospitality in her book, Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, as recognizing the needs of others, while being open to their ideas and contributions, ultimately leaving those we meet feeling valued and with a sense of belonging. What this looks like in actuality is the topic at hand.
A CHRISTIAN WELCOME
Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible recount a myriad of examples of hospitality, from welcoming and entertaining angels in disguise, to hosting Jesus as wedding guest, to Jesus feeding the multitudes. The best example of hospitality is perhaps the Holy Eucharist / the Lord’s Supper, as all are welcome to God’s table. God has long fed his people, literally in the wilderness and spiritually in our hearts. And, He has the expectation that we, too, as Christians, will extend that hospitality to strangers - “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)
Just who are strangers? “Strangers are people without a place [literally and metaphorically], disconnected from life-giving relationships and networks,” says Ms. Pohl. Whether it is offering companionship to a lonely neighbor, an invitation to an unchurched acquaintance, or a meal to those in need, opportunities for extending hospitality to the “strangers” we meet are pervasive, often appearing as what Ms. Pohl describes as “interruptions” to our busy, task-driven schedules. “Hospitality is an invitation from God to grow deeper in love,” she says.
HOSPITALITY IN PRACTICE
To create a culture of hospitality, groups must implement the practices of gratitude, truth-telling, and promise keeping, ingraining them into our very fiber. When we continually renew and express our gratitude, including taking Sabbath rest, we prevent ourselves from begrudging our acts of hospitality and avoid burnout. When we speak the truth in love and are faithful to our promises, we provide a safety net that allows people to open up in vulnerability.
According to fourth and fifth century writers, hospitality was not to be used for the purpose of advancing one’s own ambitions. Instead, it was to be “generous and uncalculating.” Ms. Pohl attests that hospitality is not to be self-serving. It’s end-goal is not “...achieving business success, enhancing our image, or growing our numbers.” Instead, she says, “...every human being flourishes in the context of welcome.”
At MPCS, our CommUNITY initiatives, including the campaign to “Love One Another,” focus on embracing others and extending kindness to one another, as did the early Christian church. In Living Into Community, Christians are encouraged to welcome strangers “across social boundaries…[where] Christians from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds ate together, loved and cared for one another, and shared one another’s lives and homes.” Indeed, in his blog post “Why Diversity Matters,” MPCS Head of School Dr. Tim Wiens encourages breaking bread and spending time in one another’s company, especially with people who look and think differently from one another. The goal is to build bridges, connecting to those outside your family or immediate circle, extending a welcome to the larger community.
HINDRANCES TO HOSPITALITY
While hospitality helps “people come to life...when they and their offerings are valued,” there are some potential hindrances to embracing hospitality in modern society.
- Keeping up appearances is a real challenge, especially in the age of social media. Ms. Pohl describes hospitality as “revelatory: if we invite people into our lives and homes, they’ll see what’s there.” But, this honest look into our imperfect lives and messy homes is not necessarily a bad thing - we live in truth when we welcome others into our reality, beyond the facade, opening up the opportunity for deep and meaningful fellowship. Additionally, by offering our time and attention, especially in today’s busy world, we are giving a valuable gift. The initial weeks of the COVID-19 quarantine reminded us of what a beautiful gift it is to spend time with loved ones.
- Fear of stepping out in hospitality can be a hindrance, whether it’s a fear of limited resources, fear of burning out, fear of welcoming strangers into our homes, or fear of changing our culture/group dynamics. Yet, when we trust in God’s faithfulness and practice discernment, when we find renewal in Sabbath rest, when we create “threshold places” to meet strangers, and when we are clear about our beliefs from the start, then we can faithfully commit to a culture of hospitality.
- Luke-warm hospitality is dangerous to sustaining, life-giving communities. Ms. Pohl advises that Christians remember that “community is not optional - we are called to be the body of Christ.” By truly embracing gratitude (and rest), fidelity, and truthfulness, we will find it easy to carry out the practice of hospitality.
Every December, we are reminded of the ultimate act of hospitality with the Christmas story. Beyond the issue of having “no room at the inn” and instead offering a little space in a stable, the truth of hospitality came in the form of a baby, who left the comforts of heaven and the presence of God to join a broken world. Jesus taught us; he served us; and, finally, he offered all of himself on the cross in the greatest act of welcome and hospitality. Jesus made room for us at God’s table.
When we began this four-part “Living Into CommUNITY” series, we asked what a strong community looks like. It is clear from the research of Ms. Christine Pohl that we can create and deepen relationships by embracing the practices of truth-telling, gratitude, promise keeping, and hospitality, within our families, our churches, our workplaces, and our school. In truth, “living into commUNITY” is as simple as loving the person God has placed in front of us.
This is the final installment in a series exploring community-building practices outlined in the book Living Into Community by Christine Pohl. Amber Irizarry is the Communications Content Specialist at Mount Paran Christian School. She earned a Master of Arts degree in Communication from Georgia State University.
To learn more about the Mount Paran Christian School CommUNITY initiative, click here.