Since moving here, Dave and I have been invited out several times with our few previously known friends - which was wonderful and kind and hospitable, but not a surprise -- after all, they are our friends already :) BUT what has overwhelmed me is how many people we just met have been so inclusive and welcoming. We have been invited hiking, camping, to parties, to lunch - all by people we recently met.
My sister has had a similar experience (play dates, dinner parties, etc) in Pennsylvania and we compared notes. People, in general, have been so welcoming. But, particularly, church members have gone out of their way to include us. I have been touched and encouraged by this. Certainly churches should all be as welcoming and hospitable as I have recently experienced.
And after hearing my sister's stories and sharing mine, I have two conclusions:
(1) WHILE SOUTHERNERS MAY BELIEVE WE HAVE THE CORNER ON HOSPITALITY, CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE THE ONES WITH A CORNER ON THE MARKET. (HOSPITALITY IS AN ESSENTIAL ASPECT OF SPREADING/SHARING THE GOSPEL)
(2) CIRCUMSTANCES DON'T HAVE TO BE PERFECT FOR HOSPITALITY TO EXIST.
The kindness I have experienced has caused me to reflect on hospitality. Southerners throw wonderful parties and we bring meals to the sick or when someone dies. We often bring holiday gifts to neighbors and friends or welcome gifts when someone moves in the neighborhood....but there is often pressure for things to be "just right."
The thing about DC is no one expects perfection. People intend to welcome, not throw a perfect party or host a perfect outing. Another thing that I have noticed in DC (but is not unique to DC) is that the church and church members are primary vehicles for hospitality. Surely God uses imperfect believers to welcome others, share the gospel and promote fellowship!
HOSPITALITY IS ESSENTIAL TO SPREADING THE GOSPEL AND ESSENTIAL FOR FELLOWSHIP.
TRUE HOSPITALITY is a risk. It involves vulnerability (particularly when it involves reaching out to new people!) When you place yourself out there with an invitation or conversation, you risk someone being annoyed or thinking you're weird. It's awkward to initiate, especially when you don't know someone well. BUT - the gospel calls us to take risks, to welcome those into our churches and into our homes. We all know people who found our Savior due to the welcoming, love and friendship of believers. We also know people who avoided church or turned away due to the lack of hospitality and friendship of church members. This is not placing all responsibility for someone's choices on us, but it should cause us to remember that we are the hands and feet of Jesus, internationally of course but primarily in our communities.
Last week at church, we talked about how God's spirit produces a community that is inwardly growing and outwardly serving. Outwardly serving churches are hospitable, cross cultural, evangelistic and merciful --BUT, here's the catch, the way for an outwardly serving community to become cross cultural, evangelistic and merciful is through hospitality.
Hospitality is also an essential BIBLICAL means for believers to establish fellowship with each other. (See 1 Peter 4:9 - Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling!) Community can't fully be built over hymns and a sermon at church -- Community grows through time spent together. This is why churches have community groups and weekly Bible studies -- giving all members a chanced to have fellowship and community with other believers!
HOSPITALITY DOES NOT HAVE TO BE "PERFECT"
We had our first visitor last week -- my friend came over to watch the Ole Miss game and we had snacks and drinks, but our apartment still looked undone. and you know what? It was still a great evening, even with boxes in the corner.
Dave and I have company coming next month and in November. (and then again in the Spring!) We are so excited to have friends and family from home, but we do not yet have a dining table. or a second dresser, or a bookcase! We still have a few boxes of clothes and books in the corner because we have nowhere to put them until we purchase a dresser or bookcase. Not a single picture is hung (our lease says pictures must be hung on approved hooks, but doesn't indicate what hooks are approved so we have to call the landlord and find out!) We only have one bathroom and sometimes the drain is slow. We certainly don't have high thread count sheets. We have one air conditioner unit in the living/dining room, so we have to leave our bedroom door open so that air reaches the bedroom!
Although our apartment is homey enough for us right now, I get stressed thinking about having it ready for company!! But, truth is, the location of hospitality is only a small fraction of the equation. I can't offer luxury, but I can offer hospitality. I can provide a clean safe place to sleep. I can provide access to one of the best cities in America! I can provide a pullout couch with eager hosts! I can make breakfast and have plenty of coffee :) I can pick out wonderful restaurants, suggest great sights to see and make sure there is wine and beer in the fridge. We can have a home of laughter and flowing conversation! I can have baked goods available in the kitchen (And, the good thing about tiny homes is that the smell of cookies in the oven spreads over the entire house!!)
I'm only 29. One day, hopefully, we will have a nicer home full of kiddos with a proper guest bedroom (or atleast a child's room that can be donated to guests for the weekend!) I will have better cooking skills and a kitchen table! I will have curtains hung and enough storage space for all our clothes. But, I am not excused from hospitality until I feel my world is "perfect" enough. Also, once again, I am 29, with no children, so we have time to invite people over for dinner or football games and welcome guests to our house for the weekend. Fortunately, good fellowship does not require much more than conversation over drinks or coffee!
So, my first lesson from "yankees" (are Washingtonians even yankees?), hospitality is essential to fellowship AND spreading the gospel, and fortunately for flawed people, even imperfect hospitality will do. :)
So come visit, sweet friends. Our home is far from perfect, but plenty welcoming!