A small group walking into a local Kansas City coffeehouse was greeted with the amazing smells of fresh roasted and brewed coffee. The bustling little coffeehouse, Thou Mayest, was populated with young professionals working on their computers at the coffee bar, little people sipping hot chocolate while barricaded in the corner on a couch by their mom, and people like me there to socialize. Places like this are common third places, a term popularized by Starbucks that represents where you want to go in addition to work and home.
The barista greeted one of the group by name and was introduced by name to the companions with him. Hospitality epitomized, especially in a place where food and drinks are served in a friendly and generous way to customers who are treated more as visitors and guests. I have had trouble with the timing of my Chemex brews and was treated to a spontaneous demonstration by one of the baristas after sharing my frustration with her. Do I want to go back? Absolutely!
Churches have been prodded to better practices of hospitality by Starbucks and other popular coffee houses. It is not uncommon to find coffee stations in the middle of the narthex, outside the church in sunny California, or in a complete coffee house located inside the church. Creating an inviting atmosphere through the senses and cultivation of friendship through coffee is not uncommon in churches today.
The early Christian practice of hospitality not only was extended to family and friends, but also to outsiders. Such openness to others offers an antidote to the fortress mentality or the “guns-and-fists mode of responding to threats of safety.” Growing churches are reclaiming this practice, not that it was ever lost, giving it more priority than it has received for generations. It has never been needed more.
Remember the two celebrity suicides that made national headlines in 2010? First, an actor named Andrew Koenig hanged himself after suffering from severe depression. Then Marie Osmond’s son jumped from his eighth-floor apartment after saying that his depression had left him feeling friendless. Suicides now outnumber homicides in the United States, and they are most common among the young and the old. …
Henry G. Brinton writes, “Friendlessness leads to loneliness, which leads to depression, which can lead to suicide. Clearly, having friends can be life-saving, which makes the work of Christian hospitality more important than ever.”
Christian hospitality is about more than coffee, more than creating a third place, and more than being helpful and friendly to the outsider. People need more even when they do not yet recognize it. “Hospitality is about connecting people to the community of faith in a deep and meaningful way. When people become part of a church they begin to develop relationships”.
One young adult put it this way last week. “I know when I come to church that no matter how I am feeling there will be someone who cares, someone who will pat me on the back and tell me it is going to be okay.” Another person said, “I know when I come to church there will be someone there to listen to me and offer me counsel”. He added with a smile as he looked at a friend, “even if they don’t give very good advice”. They talked about how such generosity coming from people they knew cared about them and people they knew and trusted was a very important gift in their lives.
Hospitality can be dangerous. When the Old Testament prophet Elijah imposed on the Gentile widow and her son, they were about to eat their last meal and die. Elijah promised God would provide for them if they were willing to take him in; a stranger. You may remember the end of the story from 1 Kings 17. “So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.”
Hospitality is life giving and life enriching. You may receive more blessing than you extend. After prayer and with wisdom this risk might prove to be one of your greatest investments.