Last week, I talked about the spiritual gifts that are given to us through the Holy Spirit to empower us to do the work of Jesus Christ in the world. There are many different places in Scripture where Christians have found lists of gifts (1 Corinthians 12: 8–10, Romans 12: 6–8, and 1 Peter 4:9–10 are the three most cited). One of these gifts, one that I think deserves attention these days, is hospitality. Peter says, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) When we think of hospitality, it is often in the context of providing welcome to someone else: a silver samovar of coffee and a tray of cookies, or a smile and an invitation to sit. The word for hospitality is philoxenia, literally “the love of strangers” because in Biblical times it was extremely likely that it would be a stranger staying with you given the infrequency of inns or similar establishments. For the Church, hospitality should always be with a mind not just towards giving members of our congregation an enjoyable experience when they come to worship, but also making sure that every person visiting that parish for the first time feels as comfortable and welcome as possible.
In these times, however, hospitality has been a difficult gift to express because our culture connects welcome and care with close contact. We are not eating and drinking together, or sitting close to one another. Presently we are not even worshipping physically with the people we know, much less the stranger. But when we do open, there are going to be all sorts of guidelines, restrictions, and sacrifices that we will have to adopt. Those will not be easy, or familiar, or comfortable. But it will be the gift of hospitality—let me explain why.
While it is unlikely we will see too many visitors in those first weeks of in-person worship, since most people will be making reservations to attend so we can appropriately limit how many people are in the building, those guidelines are there to ensure that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted as little as possible to each other, and from there to our parents, children, friends, co-workers, or strangers on the street who may be particularly vulnerable to this illness. We are doing our best to protect as many people as we can by being responsible, even at the sake of our own comfort, and in doing so are truly expressing philoxenia, the love of the stranger.
We will be continually updating you with what those guidelines will look like, using the best and most reliable information and scientific expertise available. I eagerly look forward to the day when we can worship together in person, but in the meantime savor the connect we have through our many other ways we live in community together.
Yours in Christ,