The art of hospitality

Published 10:01 am Saturday, September 13, 2014

by Andrew Book

During my time as a student at the University of Georgia I was very active in the Wesley Foundation (United Methodist Student Ministry). I was a part of our outreach ministry, our prayer ministry, our small groups ministry and a number of other areas. I loved it so much as a student that I spent a year as an intern after my time as a student leader. Despite all the time I invested in the Wesley Foundation, there was one ministry I never had any interest in getting involved with during my years there: our Fellowship team.

The Fellowship team was the group of people who worked to create spaces and opportunities for us to get to know one another, laugh and play together, and discuss life, faith, college and whatever else might be on our minds. Looking back now, I can see that I had a bit of a prideful attitude when it came to “fellowship” events. I thought they were not nearly as important as the super-spiritual things like worship and prayer or the super-practical outreach events. I couldn’t envision investing my time in something I considered to be “superficial.”

I am a bit embarrassed now when I think about the attitude my college-self had toward hospitality, because in the years since then I have come to realize that hospitality is an art. When this art is practiced well, strangers become acquaintances, acquaintances become friends, friends share life together, and all of us are supported and strengthened in important ways. During my time surrounded by a community that had been built through intentional hospitality I was not able to see how essential it is to have those among us who are skilled at practicing the art of hospitality, but as soon as I was removed from that community, the loss was acute!

We live in a world where there is an epidemic of loneliness. People are more “connected” than ever before through social media, email, phone, video chat, and more, but, paradoxically, we are also more isolated and lonely than ever. Deep friendships are harder and harder to find and, increasingly, we spend our time with our televisions instead of our friends.

So, what are we to do? Most of us sit back and complain about how lonely we are, but a much better response is to develop the art of hospitality. When was the last time you invited someone over for dinner or out to lunch? How often do you reach out to your neighbors simply to connect with them? When was the last time you met someone and took the initiative to create a time when you could get to know them better? We often wish that other people will make those invitations to us, but the reality is that the people we would like to develop a friendship with may well be hoping that we will reach out to them! Relationships rarely happen unless we take the initiative.

Some people are naturals at the art of hospitality. For the naturals, invitation and welcoming flow easily out of a life that excels at all things domestic. Their homes are beautifully prepared to welcome guests and they can whip up dinner for 10 without breaking a sweat. However, this probably does not describe you. You can, however, learn the art of hospitality. You don’t need a clean house to invite someone out for coffee and you don’t need to be a cook to suggest a restaurant to meet at. The art of hospitality is about how you relate to people — not the quality of your cooking or housekeeping! You can develop the art of hospitality simply by reaching out to the people around you and inviting them to join you in doing those things you already love to do!

This coming Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church, we are welcoming new members into the church family. We are then going to have a lunch together to celebrate these new relationships and help to deepen the connections we have with one another. I am putting a lot of my focus on developing the community of the church so that we are not simply looking at the back of one another’s heads once a week in worship, but instead we can struggle and celebrate life together. On Sunday, I am going to be giving out a homework assignment and I hope that those of you reading this column will accept the challenge as well: Call or text someone this week. Invite them somewhere to do something. I don’t really care where or what, but reach out to someone you would not have connected with otherwise and see what can come from it! You will be surprised what happens when you develop the art of hospitality!

Andrew Book is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or