When Hospitality Transforms Lives
Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook have already heard a shorter version of this story. But, I wanted to flesh out this tale a bit because it is more fully a tale about church hospitality. It is a story about how easily our simple and genuine hospitality can be transformational in people’s lives, even when you may least expect it.
A man with a slightly familiar face came up to me last Friday at a dinner and said, “You’re Kathy, right?” He went on to say he just wanted to stop by and thank me for changing his life. Wow—what?!
It turned out that I had a random conversation with him and his wife in June of last year—an encounter I barely remembered at first—but he went on to describe how my welcome and our conversation that afternoon set into place a major transformation in his life and put he and his wife on a positive new path.
The situation was this. I was sitting on the front steps of one of our churches, waiting for someone who was bringing me a document from the church office. (The parish shall go unnamed to protect the couple’s privacy.) He and his wife were strolling down the sidewalk. I smiled at them and said a simple hello. They smiled back and mumbled a greeting in return. I said something about how it sure was a hot day and I was glad to be going into an air conditioned church. They stopped and he said, “You know, I’ve always passed by this church and wondered about it. It looks very old.” I said, “Actually, it is very historic. Would you like to come in and take a look around?” He and his wife glanced at each other and nodded in the affirmative.
They came inside and, at first, were obviously interested in history. I began with that, providing some simple historical facts I happened to know about the building and then sharing some words and examples about how the very architecture of the church imparted a story and a theme of journey. It was a pretty quick leap from there to a bunch of questions about what different objects in the church were and how Episcopalians worship, what they generally believe. I quickly discerned from the nature of his questions that he and his wife were on a bit of a journey, struggling and seeking. So, I went a little deeper. We took a look at the Book of Common Prayer, at a couple of the hymnals the parish was using, and even at a church bulletin from the previous Sunday. I told them a personal story about how and why I became an Episcopalian. And, I invited them. I gave them a couple of names of folks at the church I knew they would likely love meeting (including the clergy) and I thanked them for stopping by, wishing them well. The whole encounter was maybe 15-20 minutes.
So—to segue to last week’s encounter. He told me that, while our conversation may have seemed pretty simple, he and his wife were really dealing with some things that day and it had put them on a new path. They did decide to visit this church the following Sunday and meet some of the people I had suggested. They came back the following week and then every week after that over the next year. They became a part of this church and it became a part of them. And, as he put it, he and his wife had both been “positively transformed” and are still being transformed. He saw me across the room and just wanted to share where our simple conversation led and offer thanks. What a joyous encounter!
When I talk with parishes about evangelism, one of the things I often say is that, when you personally attune yourself to being truly open to listening and encountering others, in random situations, opportunities for “evangelism” will seem to fall right out of the sky. Maybe in line at the grocery store… on the bleachers at a track meet… or maybe just out on the sidewalk. And, it isn’t so much about bringing newcomers into your church as it is about nourishing the love of God in their own lives. A growing, vibrant parish is just another blessed outcome.
Who will you meet this week? Who can you encourage? If you experience a random encounter that leads to an important faith conversation, tell us about it! Until next month….