I am not a naturally skilled host. My friends and family would definitely describe me as scatty, clumsy and messy. I am the kind to clatter round the kitchen in a flap although I aspire to be that woman who can serenely cater for 100 while holding a conversation and not burning the lasagne.
Thankfully hospitality is not really about hosting. Many of us know this but don’t always live like it’s true. We put pressure on ourselves and our homes, and probably on our families too. As ministry wives, many of us will be using our homes to welcome others in. But when these other pressures creep in, they can distract us from the command we find in Hebrews 13:1-2:
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Hospitality means welcome
If hospitality isn’t about being the perfect host, what does it mean to be hospitable? This is the best definition I could find: receiving strangers and guests with kindness and without reward (Webster Dictionary). But put simply, hospitality means welcome.
What does this look like in our homes? To some extent the answer might depend on your context. We live in a diverse community in central London, where space is in short supply and hospitality will vary between cultures. But as Christians, we have the opportunity to practice counter-cultural hospitality.
Welcome without the frills
Knowing the diversity within our church family, we have worked hard to break down barriers in order to make others feel comfortable. This isn’t an excuse to buy more cushions – it’s about helping others to feel that our home is also their home, encouraging church family to help themselves or to join in with the cooking, and not apologising when things don’t go to plan (a common occurrence!). I have a verse from Proverbs on our extractor fan which reminds me of what’s important when it comes to hospitality: ‘Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred’ (15:17).
We’ve also got to welcome chaos. Hospitality is a chance for us to welcome people into our lives, mess and all. When we moved to Vauxhall I made a decision to not apologise for having a messy home, because it implies that mess and chaos is the exception not the norm. And I think there’s a danger that this gives the same message about our lives. In reality, like my home I am a messy, broken sinner with plenty of my own chaos. Being willing for people to see how our home looks most of the time – not just when visitors are expected – has meant being able to practice hospitality more readily and often. And in bringing people into our messy home I’m also reminded not to hide my messy life, and I can encourage others to do the same.
Welcome in the storms
When we’re used to having an open home, we will be better placed to allow others to serve us when the storms of life hit. When our church experienced a huge tragedy last year, a culture of hospitality in the church became an even greater blessing. As we all grieved together, church family slept in each other’s homes not wanting to wake up alone. We shopped for one other, ate together, put laundry on and changed nappies. The first chance Sam and I had for a break, we returned to find our flat had been cleaned, our mountain of dirty laundry washed and folded, and fresh supplies in the fridge and cupboards. Sisters, it is tempting to close the doors when the storms close in, but it is better to keep them open.
Welcome doesn’t need a home
Though I’ve spoken so far about hospitality in the home, if hospitality means welcome it doesn’t actually need a home, or a table, or cutlery, or chairs.
Hospitality is not for the privileged few but a command for all believers. If we make it all about hosting, we are limiting those in our church who might not have a home from enjoying the blessings of showing hospitality. We have a wonderful privilege of encouraging all brothers and sisters in Christ to show hospitality to strangers by creating opportunities through which this can happen.
The most obvious place is our church services. One of the ways we make sure everyone can be involved in hospitality on Sundays is to eat together as a whole church family. This gives parents a chance to have an adult conversation because someone else is feeding their kids. It allows someone to cook for 50 when it would be difficult in their flat to feed five. And it means that the brother or sister experiencing homelessness can still show hospitality to others – they can serve and not only be served.
But we can also encourage church family to practice hospitality by not allowing their circumstances to be a barrier. If someone in your church family doesn’t have any chairs, have some ready to take over. If cooking feels overwhelming, this is a great opportunity for one or two others to step in and serve. We have carted chairs, cutlery, plates and meals around the estate to enable everyone to participate in church family life.
As we once again enjoy the freedom to welcome people into our homes, I hope this encourages us to not forget to show hospitality. Let’s pray for opportunities to show hospitality in old and new ways. May we not be tempted to say that we can’t ‘do hospitality’ right now; but instead ask the Lord to help us welcome strangers and love our brothers and sisters.
For more on this topic I highly recommend The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield.
Charlie Gibb is currently serving the Lord at Hope Church in Vauxhall. She’s married to Sam and mum to Judah. Charlie is a passionate campaigner for Business in the Community (BITC) and advocate against modern slavery.