I really love hospitality and try never to take it for granted. When someone takes time to create a beautiful environment or greets me with a warm welcome and a smile, I am hooked. My name is Jane Angha, Director of Ministry Blueprints, a little company all about radical hospitality and welcoming in faith communities.
Leading with Beauty
People often think hospitality is a luxury or an option if you have time, money, and volunteers. Others think it is a waste of resources to fuss with hospitality and things such as décor, environment, food, and how the room looks for an event or gathering. They swear it doesn’t matter to most people and that no one will even notice. I beg to differ. Hospitality is an integral part of setting the stage for an encounter with Christ. Leading with beauty touches our hearts, minds, and souls.
Leading with beauty is something Bishop Robert Barron speaks of often. To explain what he means by that, he tells a great story of how he came to love baseball. He is a fanatic baseball fan and points to a moment in his childhood that started his love affair with the game. His dad took him to a night game at Fenway park when he was around 7 or 8. Imagine what he saw – the bright lights, the stands filled with fans, the vendors, the mascot, and the players warming up. The smell of popcorn, hotdogs, and peanuts engulfed him. His little heart held the anticipation of his first ball game and the players in the flesh. He fell in love. His obsession with players, stats, history, and play-by-plays grew from that first game, the time he fell head over heels for baseball. Bishop Barron believes this is how we come to our faith. Something beautiful touches our hearts, minds, and souls long before we can articulate doctrine or belief. That leads us to a continued search for more – for meaning, knowledge, experience and purpose.
The Power of Radical Hospitality
It is that beauty, that incredible powerful beauty, we find in radical hospitality. Most of us have been to places where we are overcome with the beauty we see. It might be the church on Christmas Eve or the Easter Vigil. It is the flowers, candles, excitement in the air and anticipation of what is to come that touches us. Perhaps you’ve been to a wedding reception or a party that was so touching it moved you to tears. I recall a mission trip I was on with Catholic Relief Services in the West Bank and Gaza. Families who had lost everything in recent conflicts were offering our little group food and tea and a seat by their fire along with genuine kindness, laughter, and friendship. That is hospitality at its finest and most profound.
Hospitality then is something that doesn’t have to cost, but must be authentic, beautiful, and point to something other than ourselves. For a parish, it is a path to the living God. So that is the foundation of things, the kind of welcome and hospitality we need in our communities to invite new people in and nourish the souls of the parishioners who have been there the longest and serve everyone in between. This radical expression and experience is the responsibility of the whole community. It only works if everyone does it, supports it, and understands it. It’s hard work!
Everyone is the Welcoming Committee
Parishes often have welcoming committees. Those are fabulous, but they are just a part of what it takes to become a welcoming community. We must be bold and talk about this ethereal thing called hospitality. When we use some of the latest research on who is NOT at church any given weekend, we see that one reason is that we have forgotten how to welcome like Jesus did. We have become complacent and satisfied with the ordinary. We need to set our hearts on fire, to be moved to more and to light that fire with radical hospitality.
Just for starts here are a few things to ponder about hospitality:
- It isn’t frivolous to make your parish beautiful by whatever means you have.
- It isn’t wasting time or money to invite people to share in a meal or finger food after Masses each weekend.
- It isn’t irresponsible to have the lights on, doors open, and people milling about waiting to greet and offer a handshake and smile before and after every Mass.
- It is worth every penny to send invitations to the neighborhood to join you for weekend worship or the parish festival.
- It’s invaluable to send care packages to your college students during finals to remind them they are loved and remembered.
- It’s brilliant to ask families to greet and welcome when they are present at events, even if they haven’t signed up to do so.
- It’s affirming and kind to make sure there is space for young families to be comfortable whenever they are brave enough to bring their children to Mass or parish events.
- It’s a kindness to teach everyone in the parish to be a “welcomer” and to move over in the pew.
- It’s a sign of a joyful parish when no one sits alone at coffee and donuts and the first timers are free!
- It is a wise community that leads with beauty, is authentic in their care and love, and their joy is visible and palpable.
May beauty touch your heart in some way today and lead you ever deeper on your journey of faith!