He was probably close to my age. It’s likely he was younger, but he looked a bit older because life is hard and sometimes that ages us, doesn’t it? I don’t remember what he was wearing because he was pushing a baby stroller and in that stroller was a toddler, a boy I thought (I was right), and that’s what I noticed instead. I had just come back from grabbing my lunch at a downtown restaurant when my path crossed their path. They were standing in the doorway to the church office and the dad was sharing a story of which I could only hear snippets. I felt embarrassed for a moment–embarrassed that they may be in the church for help and I had just spent $7 on a sandwich from the new bagel shop.
I caught his eye and smiled and opened my office door. I set my stuff inside and sat in front of my laptop.
Moments later, Kelly, our office administrator was at my door. “Do you have food anywhere that a toddler could eat?” She proceeded to tell me this man’s story: his wife had left him and his children. He was having trouble finding people to care for the children so he could go to work. They were out of food and very hungry.
A few weeks ago, our church staff had a meeting. “How can we be hospitable to people who come into our building?” Our pastor, John Guthrie, asked us.
We tossed around ideas. The truth is, we are downtown church and some weeks we have dozens of people come into our building requesting help with food or utility bills or rent or gas for their cars–things we all have struggled with or will struggle with at some point, I can testify and assume. These are our neighbors, in most cases members of our community. Some are used to asking for help and being turned away. Some have never had to do it before and feel embarrassed or vulnerable.
We decided something that day. Hospitality does not equal money. We don’t have a lot of money, really. We have a benevolence fund that our members support and sometime we have enough to help with the needs of our neighbors. But sometimes we do not have money in our benevolence fund. We could put a sign on the door, I suppose, alerting our community to that information. “Out of Funds.” It might say.
But is that hospitable? We save ourselves the effort of saying the words out loud and I suppose in some cases, people are glad to know before they come in the building…but it’s not hospitable.
Also, what about people who need more than food? What about people who need to share their stories? What about people who are hungry and need something to eat? What about people who would just like a cool place in the summer heat or a warm place in the winter cold? What about people who are thirsty…for water or for living water?
We’re not always great at hospitality. Sometimes we are in a hurry or we are tired or we have too much to do or maybe we just picked up lunch and would rather check facebook and eat it. Sometimes we are weary of all of the stories or we are overwhelmed by the very little we are able to do.
That day we talked about hospitality, we made a plan. We would always answer the door and we will never hang signs that turn people away. We will listen to people and offer our prayers or our kind words. We will have food available–things that we can cook on our stove or in our microwave or just hand to someone to take to eat.
So when Kelly came to my door asking about food, she and I went to work. We filled a bag with soup and tuna and applesauce, I ransacked the nursery for diapers and cheerios and our custodian gave the toddler a popsicle. Could we have done more? Yes, probably, and there were things I thought of after he left that might have been helpful. Yet, we did try to show hospitality in that moment we had with the father and the son.
I think too often, it’s easy to forget to be welcoming and kind, especially to people we do not know or to people who cannot help us in return. It can be easy to put people in categories or to think in terms of “us” and “them.”
In the divisive climate of today, it is easy to forget who our neighbors are.
Let’s stop today and ask how we can be more hospitable…in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our cities and in our nation. Let’s not forget who our neighbors are.