I’ve been reading a lot lately about imperfect hospitality. If you have survived the “entertaining” culture of the late 1990s and 2000s thus far, you are familiar with the concept of gathering friends to your esquisitely outfitted, immaculately clean, well-decorated and -appointed home redolent of gourmet cooking. This form of hospitality, called “entertaining,” turns hospitality into showmanship. And, frankly, most of us don’t have the time, energy, money, or patience for it. Most of us just want to see our friends and meet our neighbors, without worrying about whether we put away the boxes of diapers that came in the mail that morning or whether we have already taken the apples out of their bag and arranged them in a bowl…on a cleared table…next to a scented candle…that our kids have somehow not used to catch their hair on fire.
The new movement towards imperfect hospitality is actually a revival of the kind of get-togethers that I grew up with in the 1980s and early 1990s. We used to stop by our friends’ and relatives’ houses when we were on that side of town, and we would gather around to talk right in the midst of daily life. If we came over and someone was mopping, we would tiptoe around the wet floor with socked feet to sit at the table for hot coffee or sweet iced tea. The hosts and hostesses had only one requirement, and it wasn’t to be perfect or to put on a show of elite homemaking. The one requirement for good hosts was to make people feel welcome at the table.
A good host at home is the best model I can think of for welcoming people into the church. When someone comes to my house as a guest, I don’t doubt my place. I know that I’m in my own home, and I know what I have to offer. My goal is to share love by bringing the visitors to the table and sharing with them. I am not worried about myself. On the contrary, I feel the gratitude and joy of being able to share my abundance. Even if you come when I haven’t cooked and need to go to the store, I will gladly share water and whatever I can rustle up in the kitchen. The point isn’t my particular vittles or decorating skills. It’s the joy of bringing someone else into the circle of love that is the heart of our home.
In church, the people who are best at making others feel welcome are those who have taken to heart the truth that God has prepared a place for them. They feel at home with God, and they want to bring others into the circle of love they experience with God in church.
Sometimes people ask me what they can do to welcome families with disabilities into church life. The first, best thing you can do is practice knowing that God loves you and has made a place for you. Then you will want to share that welcome. You will want to help the child who needs help fitting into the patterns of church movement, just as you would help a child who needed to know where to sit to eat at your table at home.
But getting beyond the practicalities, the first thing I want you to know is that God is a place and a home for you. You are loved. You were made by God and for God, and who can pluck you from His hand?
Know what that’s like, and the practicalities of welcome won’t be so intimidating. Hospitality is not about perfection. It’s about sharing home. God is your home. Look for ways to make that truth visible.
Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability is coming soon from Ancient Faith Publishing! Look for it wherever books are sold October 22, 2019.
I will be a speaker at the St. Emmelia Homeschool South Conference in January 2020. I hope to see some of you there! I will be talking about “The Five Principles of Therapeutic Homeschools.”