Thank you all for the warm welcome. It has been just about a month since I became the intern minister at UUFP and you have all been delightful. I don’t know if I have met everyone yet, but I do know I have a bunch of new names and faces swimming around in my head. I have been absolutely impressed with the warm smiles, friendly handshakes and earnest conversation.
Not to mention the food.
I have to admit, UUFP bars no holds when it comes to laying a table. Every Sunday there has been a breakfast buffet in the kitchen with cheese and crackers, bagels and cream cheese, fresh fruit, cookies and of course coffee. I have stayed in hotels who didn’t have as nice of a breakfast option available. When it comes to hospitality, you don’t holdback.
It got me thinking about the spiritual nature of hospitality, what it means to be deeply hospitable.
I have been reading a book called Radical Hospitality by Lonni Collins Pratt. The book speaks about hospitality from the perspective of St. Benedict, the Catholic saint who is known as the father of monasticism. It is a great read that I recommend to everyone, but it is steeped very heavily in Christianity, so some translation may be in order. The lessons within the book are not only beyond any particular faith but are a shining example of the seventh principle*, “Respect for the interdependent web of life, of which we are all a part.” Pratt talks about listening as a spiritual practice, focusing on discovering the divine in others and allowing ourselves to be open to receive that divinity, that uniqueness. She refers to hospitality as “mutual reverence.”
Pratt also gives us a warning about hospitality. Very often we get caught up in how to offer hospitality that we forget why we offer hospitality. Paying more attention to the type of silver we are putting out for our guest and making sure we make a good impression, instead of attending to the actual needs of the guest herself.
One semester during seminary, I stayed at an AirBnB with in-home hospitality, meaning I was staying in a spare room in someone’s house while they were living there. They were a wonderful older couple, both creative artist types with a history of community activism. Their walls were covered with intriguing paintings and delightful kitsch that kept your eyes occupied for hours. These were my kind of people! When I arrived they were excited to show me around the neighborhood. They had a few in home dinners planned for me and were excited to talk with my about my education and career path. It was a great example of warmth and enthusiasm.
But according to Pratt, it wasn’t really hospitality. While my hosts were certainly gracious and kind, what I really needed during my stay was a desk, an outlet for my chargers and a quiet place to read and study. I didn’t have time to tour the area, I didn’t have time for long conversations with dinner. I had work to do! This was my last semester and I wanted to graduate.
When we offer hospitality, we often get caught up in the act of offering, what we can do to make our welcoming the best welcome ever. We become more concerned about the social graces themselves and not the person we are offering them to. As Pratt says, “one of the inherent problems with programs to develop radical hospitality is the focus on hospitality as a goal. Hospitality requires that our focus is on the other rather than attainment of a concept.” In order to be truly hospitable, we need to find out what those we are offering hospitality to really need. We need to focus on the needs of the other.
So let me end this post with a question for you all to ponder. What are YOUR needs? What do you come to UUFP for? What are looking for from this community? Think about the need that brings you to this congregation and ask if that need is being met.
Then I encourage you to ask a close friend in the congregation that same question. What are they looking for when they come to UUFP? What is it that they need? Listen to what they have to say. Think about it. Take a moment of silence between the two of you to let it sink in. Repeat it back to them to make sure you heard it correctly. Don’t offer solutions, don’t give suggestions. It’s tempting to try and fix when we have conversations like these, but this is an exercise in observation, not solution. Just listen.
And if you are brave, when a visitor comes into the door, someone you haven’t met before, after you have welcomed them in, given them your name and a genuine smile, say to them, “Thank you so much for coming, what brought you in today?”
It is a scary thing to walk into a church for the first time, it takes a lot of courage. There must be a very good reason for them to act so bravely. Your earnest listening and presence will be remembered by them long after to cookies and bagels are gone.
Show them that wonderful UUFP hospitality!
*(I know that many interpret the seventh principle as being the environmental principle, reminding us that the web of life extends beyond humanity. While that is certainly a part of what the principle is about, I also see it as a reminder that we are all part of the human family, that we are interconnected and need each other. We cannot live this life alone.