Thank you for the time of Sabbatical in the month of August. I am spiritually rested and rejuvenated. I remember all the energy and excitement I had when I first got here 3 ½ years ago and I feel like I have that back. Today, I want to share with you some reflections from my Sabbatical.
When I left, I challenged you to meet some new people. I said I was going to try to meet someone new every day to inspire the devotions I was writing. Funny thing. Its really hard to meet new people in the South. When we think of people in the South we think of hospitality. But, there is a difference between hospitality and friendliness.
The first day I ventured out in Black Mountain I went to a tea shop called Dobra Tea. If you followed Flat Sally on Facebook, you know she drank a lot of coffee and tea while we were in North Carolina. Dobra Tea was a quiet little Asian tea house with meditative music and the smell of wonderful teas and herbs.
Unfortunately, the tea shop was not set up well to introduce myself to strangers, so I eavesdropped. There were 2 women seated at a booth across from me. They were obviously old friends but hadn’t been together in a very long time. Maybe high school friends and one just moved back to town in her late 20s. The women talked about church and friends.
It was interesting that one of the women noted that she didn’t feel up to the task of southern hospitality. She felt like a more casual approach to hospitality was her style. She didn’t want to wait on people from the minute they entered her door to the time to say good night. She wanted to be the type of host that her guests felt welcome to come in and make themselves at home, grab a glass from the cupboard and poor whatever they wanted to drink from the fridge, to take off their shoes and put their feet up. This is much different than you would think of Southern hospitality.
What I learned is that Southern hospitality comes in many forms and isn’t necessarily extended to strangers. Every day I visited a different coffee shop or tea house and tried to strike up a conversation with someone. I offered extra information to the barista or casually made a comment to a fellow patron about the book they were reading. But, couldn’t get anyone to engage in conversation. I think perhaps the Midwest is known for friendly people but the South is known for their hospitality of people they are already friends with.
I visited a few churches while I was on Sabbatical too. I don’t often get the opportunity to go to church as a guest or sit in a pew. I admit that I wanted to slip in, sit in the front where no one would bother me and I wouldn’t be in anyone’s seat, and slip out without much attention.
The first church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) church, was rather unhospitable, even with though I expected very little, I got less. When I was greeted at the door, I was handed a bulletin and the greeter said, “Good morning.” Nothing about welcome or acknowledgment that I was a guest. Then, I went in and found a seat. No one said anything to me. Not one person said hello. I had to read the bulletin in detail to find out that they entered the sanctuary quietly and prepared for worship. After worship, on my way out, 1 person introduced himself and walked away. 2 other people engaged me in a brief conversation. It was not a very welcoming church. If I had been a visitor looking for a new church, I probably would have visited many other churches before going back to the Christian Church.
The next Sunday I decided to go to church in the evening. I could get used to sleeping in and worshiping on Sunday night. I went to the Baptist church in Ridgecrest where I was staying. It was a cute little church set in the woods at the end of a cul-de-sac. When I walked up to the church, 2 men greeted me who were outside talking before service. One of the men asked me my name and where I was from, how long I was visiting, where I was staying, all kinds of questions. Then, he introduced me to every single person who came to worship. Literally every one! When we went in to sit down, I found a spot toward the front, again, didn’t want to take anyone’s seat, but this group probably would have gladly given up their seat for me. A few people came in late and still came over to introduce themselves to me. I don’t think there was one person in the sanctuary who I hadn’t been introduced to.
The preacher was an retired pastor preaching in the interim while they found a new pastor. The preacher was very kind. He offered to let me do the pastoral prayer, which I declined since I hadn’t really been paying attention to all the prayer requests and didn’t have anything prepared. Honestly, too, I was afraid if I prayed for them that they’d invite me back to preach the next Sunday. At the benediction, the preacher offered prayer and prayed for my ministry.
Now, I am not a Baptist, not close theologically, socially, or politically. There preacher was the worst I have ever heard. He jumped from thought to thought to thought without ever making a point in his sermon. Still, I would go back to that Baptist church before I went back to the Christian Church. I would probably join the Baptist church before I considered joining the Christian Church.
Last week, I visited the Christian Church in Blue Mound. Lovely little church, smaller than us. Mildly hospitable. Someone introduced themselves to me that recognized me from camp. Her son was one of my past campers. I had him in middle school. He is now a junior in high school and has grown a foot since last time I saw him. But, no one else really introduced themselves to me. They do that meet and greet time during worship where you get up and greet your neighbor. You know, that thing you hate to do. No one came over to introduce themselves to me. Even when I tried to greet others, they weren’t very warm.
Of all the coffee shops, tea houses, and churches I visited, I want to go back to Ridgecrest Baptist church. They know how to make someone feel welcome. It is the friendliest church I have EVER visited.
I can’t really comment on how we do on hospitality. I don’t get to see how you greet people at the door or after worship in the East room over coffee and goodies. I’ve never been a stranger here, so I don’t know.
How do you think you do?
What do you know others do to welcome visitors?
The author of Hebrews suggests that practicing hospitality is important because we may just be entertaining angels. Throughout the Old Testament, there are stories of how people treated angels. In Sodom, the people wanted to do violent things to the angels. Abram welcomed strangers and, after dinner, the angels shared with him news that he would be a father. When we think we’re meeting ordinary people, we may just be encountering angels.
I know we’re all hoping and praying for visitors. I know you will all try to be welcoming. I want to challenge you to be as hospitable as the Baptist church. I’d like everyone to introduce themselves. Don’t assume that enough others have introduced themselves. Don’t worry about overwhelming them with names and faces. Assume when they come back that they won’t remember your names, but remember their names. Love them and welcome them from the beginning and they will keep coming back and learn your names overtime. When they come, welcome all God’s angels.