Life on the PORCH: Practicing Hospitality

Our staff team has been paying attention to how we live into the values of Act Five this summer. One of these values is hospitality. I’ve been considering this for Act Five, but also for myself. What does it mean for me to faithfully lean into true hospitality? How do I welcome the stranger – in my community, in how I engage with creation, in a sense of curiosity and openness to the Spirit of Christ, and even a posture of welcoming that in my own self which is stranger to me? To compassionately invite that which feels strange and foreign and perhaps uncomfortable to make their home, to belong here with me for a while. And what does this mean in the context of Act Five? Enjoy this summertime blog post as you wander through some thoughts with me. – Alyssa

Hospitality. A Christian buzz-word. For me, it brings to mind images of nicely folded bed sheets and auto-applied tips at restaurants. Some people might imagine dinner-parties, guest bedrooms, and entertaining an out-of-town friend.

But what is it? 

This summer, I’ve been reading the book A Place at the Table: Faith, Hope and Hospitality by Miranda Harris. Harris, with her husband Peter, founded A Rocha (“the rock”), a now-international Christian environmental stewardship organization, in Portugal in the 1980s. The book is a collection of Harris’ writings that were compiled after her sudden and tragic death in 2019.

Harris’ life, I’ve learned, is a journey towards and around the answer to that question. And my favourite part of her path towards understanding hospitality is the meandering she does around the topic of food. If you know me, there is no doubt you know my wide and wonderful love for food. But I’ll get to that later. 

Simply, hospitality at its heart is the offer of kindness and care and a place to belong for a while. It’s an offering of our gifts to the other. To the stranger, in particular. I’ve heard it said that hospitality is an act of “extending our table” – literally and figuratively – to fit more people around it. Extend so that others might belong here, face to face with us. 

A story to illustrate this: Harris, in her book, describes how she once heard of a woman who was deep in the throes of depression. She couldn’t pull herself out and had no food in the house. One day, her friend came over, brought her to her own home and made her a very simple meal of porridge and brown sugar. She rested in the hospitality of this friend for a number of days, until she began to float back up to the surface and feel like herself again. “I can still remember that first meal to this day. It tasted like hope.” The woman still speaks of the story. 

The simplicity of this extension is what moves me. Jesus, in his day, would have had a very limited diet of rough, gritty barley bread, beans, eggs, salted fish, figs and honey. Meat was a rare treat and most fruit and vegetables were largely inaccessible besides the odd cabbage and leek. An exuberant feast, a nice home, a spare bedroom are not necessities for the practice of hospitality. The heart of hospitality is the offering of the gift as a sign of welcome and belonging, no matter how simple, towards any person that crosses our path – the stranger, or the friend, or (and I wonder if you’ve considered this before), the earth. 

(In the spirit of hospitality, we offer welcome to the neighbourhood pollinators, too!)

Genuine communities, such as Act Five, always need to extend themselves. I use the table as an analogy here, as it is rich with practicalities and relevance. It starts with the table, and extends beyond it. Harris says,

“We belong to the community of the created before joining the community of the redeemed. Committing to a group of people, making ourselves mutually accountable, trying to live as transparently as possible, inviting commentary on our choices and decisions, adopting others’ ways of doing things because they’re better than our own, recognizing others’ gifts and our own limitations – these are counterintuitive and make us feel very vulnerable. Meals together, including preparation and clean-up, downtime, playing, laughing and learning to forgive create a wonderfully welcoming environment in which all kinds of people might truly feel at home. Community doesn’t come about by having deep conversations over coffee; rather, those kinds of conversations are part of what is possible when people are already opening up their day-to-day lives to each other: peeling carrots, planting seedlings, or fixing the bicycle chain… again.”

(Harris, 119)

At Act Five this summer, the porch has become an analogy. (Ironically, the porch has been out-of-commission the last three weeks for structural repairs but nonetheless what I’m about to say still stands!). The porch reminds us to be outward-facing and not insular. It reminds us to pay attention to our neighbourhood and its people, dogs, squirrels, and plants. It forces us to smile and say hi as we encounter others. It’s where we share space, and invite in. It’s where we are seen and where we look others in the eyes. And, it’s where we have important conversations and tell stories; a place of “Welcome to our home!” and of “See you later!” The porch reminds us to care – and genuinely care – for others, both inside and outside of our community.

We are exploring hospitality more these days. We have re-started Spaghetti Wednesdays this summer, inviting neighbours to join us for meals. We’re practicing “porch nights” where the summer community has committed to spending an evening on the porch with one another, greeting neighbours and enjoying presence. Additionally, we have an ongoing partnership with Micah House as meal hosts, where members of the Act Five community walk over with a meal every other week and join the residents to eat in their home. This is extra-special, because we experience reciprocal hospitality – and thus reciprocity – in the sharing of food and space and stories. We can joyfully experience being both guest and host – giver and receiver – because we are all guests together around the table with Christ as our host. This is hospitality. 

As I’ve named, hospitality at its heart is the offer of kindness and care and a place to belong for a while. Towards any person that crosses our path – the stranger, or the friend, or the earth. 

I think we can all do that. 

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