Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hospitality Part 2

Bear with me, this may be long.

I've been thinking a lot about hospitality lately.

Prompted by a children's sermon a few weeks ago, my sense of awareness for the role of hospitality in my life and in the lives of those around me has been heightened.  More importantly - my sense of awareness for the role of the lack of hospitality in my life and in the lives of those around me has been heightened.

We welcomed our new class of international students at work this week.  All summer we've been preparing for their arrival, discerning how to best show hospitality and appreciation to them for selecting Emory and traveling so far to study with us.  It's safe to say that we did our best to bend over backwards for them - but they deserved it!!

Monday through Wednesday were intense - they had back to back to back to back sessions about school, Atlanta, immigration, banking, jobs and more.  Things slowed down on Thursday and Friday and I only saw the students as they tested for the English as a Second Language (ESL) class.  As I checked each student in and brought them to their testing room I asked how things were going.  Student after student expressed such sincere gratitude for all we had done for them since their arrival to our country.

As each student said that to me, I couldn't help but think - I hope they didn't expect anything less.  And yet - I thought back to the last time I was working my way through U.S. customs.  It was July 2007 and my family and I were coming back from Europe - we had flown direct from Barcelona and I was exhausted.  I remember coming in from baggage claim and listening to a U.S. customs agent barking at people as they tried to figure out which line to get into.  I looked at a young immigrant couple, trying to keep their three young children calm and under control.  But the children were just so excited to finally be free from the "please remain seated with your seatbelt fastened" message of the flight attendants that they couldn't help but run.  The U.S. customs agent showed no pity towards these eager children.  He yelled and told them they were in the wrong place.  I don't know if they understood what the man had said, but the parents frantically tried to round up their children.

I looked at my parents, rolled my eyes and said, "Welcome to the United States."

What a terrible first impression of our country.

What about hospitality in the work place?  Yes - work gets stressful.  Yes - sometimes you want to put on blinders to the rest of the office and swat away anyone who walks in your path.  Does that mean that you should?  No.  Taking a deep breathe and find out if the person who walked in front of you can help in anyway.

And ask nicely.  Snapping orders at people gets nothing done.  It really just makes them want to cry.

Let's talk about churches.  Do you think people who proclaim to do the work of God are any better?  I'm afraid not.

I started thinking about this as I read that one of my sweet blogger friends was having a difficult time settling into a church home for her and her family.  They had been attending a church for six months and hadn't really connected with any of the people there - six months!!  Six months and nobody at the church had taken the time to reach out to returning visitors.

I wish I could say that the churches that I call home have been any better.  I've often said that churches are like sororities.  Once you're in, you're in - it just takes awhile to get there.  When Bruce and I moved to Georgia and started church shopping, it took about nine months to really feel like the church we were attending was home.  And now that it does - I wonder if I practice what I preach when it comes to welcoming new visitors.  Those of you church goers out there - stop and think for a moment if you've actively sought out an unfamiliar face during the passing of the peace or coffee hour.  Have you?  Or have you made a beeline for a friend you haven't seen in awhile or a prospective committee member you're trying to finalize?

I can't speak for everyone.  But I think I may be guilty of this.

It's hard.  People want to worship on Sunday mornings.  They want to fellowship with their church family who they may not see any other day of the week.  They want to feel comfortable so they can truly experience God.  How can you experience a true worshipful experience if you feel like you're constantly needing to be a hostess?  There HAS to be a balance.  I'm just not sure what it is.

Let's forget about visitors for a minute (probably the only time you will every hear me say this).  Let's talk about extending hospitality towards ALL DEMOGRAPHICS within a congregation.  I am a member of the United Church of Christ, a denomination that prides itself on being open and affirming, particularly when it comes to sexual orientation.  But what happens when it comes to youth and children?  How do congregations extend hospitality towards a demographic that either has difficulties either sitting still and staying quiet or staying awake during worship?  Sometimes I think the congregations I call home - congregations that spend so much time extending hospitality towards an oftentimes ostracized community - have a hard time with this particular demographic.  I've seen and heard dirty looks, "shhsh'ing," reminding parents that there are childcare options available during worship, separate "children's tables" at coffee hour and council conversations about "what to do" about the youth "checking out" during worship.  What good is a worship service where everyone doesn't at least have the opportunity to get something out of it?

I don't think we talk about hospitality enough in our culture.  I think we expect that we are hospitable because we tend to throw awesome parties that produce pictures of people smiling all the time.

But that doesn't mean anything.

So let's talk about hospitality.  What are ways that we can extend hospitality in our homes, workplaces and churches?  Are there simple solutions or is this going to take awhile?

Rome wasn't built in a day.  But I have to say ... 

It was pretty spectacular once it was done.

Thanks for sticking with me - I know this was longwinded!!

1 comment:

  1. Sarah,
    It was great to read what's been on your heart about hospitality. Not too many people give it much thought, but it is SO important! It is so easy to just get comfortable where you are and not reach out to others. I pray that when I get to finding out where I should be, I won't be afraid to reach out to others!


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