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New Horizons

Hospitality: Help for the Hesitant

Patricia Clawson and Diane Olinger

If you break into a sweat at the thought of having a family over for Sunday lunch, or your pulse races when the minister asks you to host a missionary overnight, this article is for you.

You're in a quandary. First Timothy 3:2 talks about hospitality as a qualification of overseers. That means your husband, if he is an elder, may have to show hospitality, but not the wife. You're relieved, but in the back of your mind you know you are your husband's helpmeet, so you might have to make the meal anyway. Your temples throb.

If you aren't married to an elder, are you off the hook? Not really. In Romans 12:13, Paul instructs us to "seek to show hospitality." He doesn't limit this obligation to those who have a special gift for this sort of thing, or to those who can afford a cleaning lady, or to stay-at-home moms or empty-nesters. Even widows in 1 Timothy 5:10 show hospitality. And there's no mention whether your cooking rivals Betty Crocker's or your house is spotless.

So even if we burn frozen pizza, or dust bunnies are hiding under the couch, we are to seek ways to show hospitality-even if a fellow church member would do a better job.

And we aren't supposed to moan or complain about showing hospitality, either. First Peter 4:9 talks about showing hospitality to one another "without grumbling." Not fair! Even worse, in his letter Peter was encouraging even those who were suffering (1 Pet. 1:6) to show hospitality.

Pat Clawson, of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania, recalls a young couple hosting herself and her husband for dinner two weeks after their infant died. It was a memorable lesson in giving hospitality "not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). That means that even if you prepare a gourmet meal and behave as the perfect hostess, but resent your guests, you're not showing biblical hospitality. We shouldn't even grumble about the extra money spent on groceries or how little time and energy we have left for ourselves. This is tough.

Part of the difficulty may be the misperception that hospitality involves filet mignon and fancy table settings. Hospitality is opening your home with warmth and sincerity; it starts in the heart and shows in our actions.

The New Testament word for hospitality, philoxenos, means "love for the stranger." We were once "strangers to the covenants of promise," but because of the work of Christ, we have been brought near to God and now are "no longer strangers" (Eph. 2:12-15, 19). We show love for strangers because we were once strangers and Christ loved us.

Christ identifies with his people. When we serve others through hospitality, we are serving him. "Truly, I say to you, as you [fed, gave drink to, or welcomed] one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40).

So where does this leave those of us who aren't at ease with inviting folks over for Sunday lunch or overnight? It means coming up with ways to overcome our hospitality hurdles, including how to cook something through Sunday school and church without turning it into beef jerky.

Practical Suggestions

Hint number one is that crock pots forgive overcooking. So does ham. For one year, Pat served ham and green beans to every guest. Soon her teenage daughters could fix the meal by themselves. Once Pat had the hang of it, she branched out, figuring if it didn't turn out well, people came to her house for the fellowship and laughter, not the cooking.

Don't experiment with meals, says Ginger Dennison, of Immanuel OPC in West Allegheny, Pennsylvania. She jokes about serving one of her "famous five," Sunday after Sunday. Still the unexpected happens. Once when the electricity went out on Ginger's electric stove, she carted the meal over to her guest's stove!

Pat's first attempt at a beef roast shrank to the size of a charred burger by the time she got home from church. Horrified, she wondered how she was going to feed her seven guests and her family of five. Providentially, there were plenty of potatoes and carrots, so she wrote down Proverbs 15:17 and set it on the table: "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred" (NIV).

Wendy Thompson, of Immanuel OPC in West Allegheny, Pennsylvania, suggests improvising if the meal goes awry. She says, "I am so thankful to the Lord and heave a sigh of relief whenever I walk through the door after church and smell whatever I am cooking, because there is always a concern that I will have to go to plan B." Plan B involves serving pancakes, peanut butter and jelly, or grilled cheese and tomato soup.

If you can't afford serving dinner, ask folks to come for dessert, suggests Wendy. Or ask them to bring a dessert, salad, or rolls. Or serve popcorn after the evening service.

"The most difficult thing about getting ready for hospitality is jumping over the hurdle that says you cannot do it because you are too busy, or too tired, or don't have enough money, etc.," says Wendy.

Tips from hospitality experts suggest that making the meal on Saturday and reheating it, or mixing all the dry ingredients ahead of time, eases the "last minute" pressure. Diane Olinger, of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania, serves cold cuts and chips, which gives her time to care for her hungry young children. Paper plates save on cleanup.

Forget perfection, hints Betty Watson, of Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. "Many people don't give hospitality because they think everything has to be perfect and they must have a three-course meal. Remember, you're having people over to fellowship."

Don't be intimidated either, says Christine Wilson, of Grace OPC in Columbus, Ohio (pictured on page 8), who often feels inadequate hosting Christians who are more mature in the faith. "It is my own insecurity, and it has lessened as time goes on," says Christine. "When the kids were toddlers, I used that as an excuse not to host people. As the Lord put us in situations where we needed to host anyway, I recognized that it was a crutch."

Wendy also has times when it is difficult to show hospitality. "No matter how many years our family has been doing this, I still have times when it is very tough to get motivated to clean the house, or shop, or prepare the food, or encourage the rest of the family to help before having someone over. Whatever my mood, I am reminded again, that it is God's good work that I walk in."

For those working full-time, hospitality doesn't have to be a big meal on Sunday. Wendy's single son hosts pizza-and-game nights on weekends. Others meet on weekdays for coffee or lunch. "It is, in my opinion, extremely difficult to run a household and hold down a job," says Vickie Swann, of Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. "That was when I discovered that buying pizza or take-out Chinese food was a legitimate way to entertain."

Overnight stays are less trying if you can keep a room ready with a bed made, or set out cereal, bowls, and spoons and let the guests help themselves to milk and O.J. for breakfast, says Vickie.

To ease the burden of the same folks always showing hospitality, Bethel OPC in Oostburg, Wisconsin, has a rotating schedule of families who will host visitors on Sunday. Some churches organize small groups for fellowship meals. The host family offers their home, while others bring the meal.

On the other hand, Holly Wilson, of Christ Covenant OPC in Indianapolis, Indiana, routinely prepares for guests each Sunday. If no one comes over, she'll have an extra meal prepared for midweek.

Once the downstairs is clean and the food is on the table, relax and enjoy. Hospitality is contagious. All three of Pat's girls now show hospitality-which seems to be the biggest reward for making them clean their rooms as kids. Plus, there are perks. As Hebrews 13:2 says, some of those who have shown hospitality to strangers "have entertained angels unawares."

"When I see people at church who have been to our home and shared some of their life with us, we can say more than 'Hi, how are you?'" says Betty.

The authors are members of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pa. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2006.

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