We now have two home extensions: the Zoom Room and the Garden Grotto. The Zoom Room came first and took a lot of getting used to. Now, it’s our place to welcome visitors and meet with friends even from other countries and continents. I’m more comfortable than before and sometimes forget it’s virtual. I feel I want to make tea for everyone. Of course, face to face is better.
Our garden is very small. We get access through the lane at the back of the house, so it has not been used for much more than storing bikes in the tool shed and housing the wheelie bins. Now, however, with chiminea and rain canopy it has become a wonderful resource for offering hospitality.
I used to think hospitality was a gift – but not one of mine. That was until we lived in Turkey. I arrived in Ankara 40 years ago as a young married woman and was immediately aware that social life was full of visiting and being visited. The large extendable oak table which I inherited 3rd hand from the British embassy filled me with dread. How would I ever cope with the high expectations of practical serving?
However, as I entered deeper into the culture I realised that hospitality was not the strong emphasis that I first imagined it to be. You see in Turkey you honour someone not by inviting them to your home but by visiting them in theirs. It was considered such a privilege to be visited that hospitality was just the appropriate response. At the heart of the matter is the importance of the visitor.
Many times in the Gospels Jesus was the visitor. He invited himself! Just imagine the excitement and warm welcoming response of Zacchaeus and his family when Jesus said he was coming to stay (Luke 19:1-10). If we’re Christians, this is our story too. I may think I invited Christ, but actually it was his initiative. He knocked at the door of my heart and I let him in. Salvation came to my house and now his presence should energise with joy any service I do in his name. Rather than seeing hospitality as a gift, I now see it as a spiritual discipline like prayer or Bible reading.
After fifteen years we left Turkey and drove home in a Ford transit van. There was limited space, but I insisted on bringing my table. It carried so many memories and had been central to much of our ministry – ‘the tools of the trade’. The writer to the Hebrews urges us to welcome strangers who unknown to us might turn out to be angels ( Hebrews 13:2). So often the word or deed of a visitor proved to be a message from God.
I think one reason we shrink back from welcoming strangers to our homes is because we confuse hospitality with entertaining. Entertaining is about me, how I can impress my guests with my house, my cooking, my table setting, my conversation. I’m worried about what others will think of me. No wonder it’s stressful. No wonder it feels overwhelming. By contrast, biblical hospitality is all about the guests. It’s the contrast between Martha whose focus was on her serving and Mary who sat at the feet of her visitor ( Luke 10: 38-42 ). The aim is to bless, not impress. My food will therefore be simple to enable more time to focus attention on the people around my table. Jesus was the perfect host when he refused to send over 5000 visitors away without feeding them. His miracle didn’t produce haute cuisine delicacies but the stable food of fish and bread (John 6:1-14).
Here in Glasgow we aren’t allowed to visit one another’s houses. I miss the opportunity to facilitate home gatherings. All over the world the church is growing fastest through these small group settings where people get together around the Word.
For now it has to be in the Zoom Room or the Garden Grotto with the simplest of hospitality – toasting marshmallows in the chiminea.