I grew up in a stereotypical American family. Two parents, two kids, red brick ranch style home on a corner lot… my parents even drove a wood-sided station wagon! It seemed that we knew everyone in our small town, and everyone knew us. We were strongly connected to our extended family and my family was actively involved in our church and in the community.
I first learned about hospitality from my parents and extended family. We didn’t have fine hotels in town as I was growing up, so visitors often stayed in our home, eating meals with us. My parents held an annual New Year’s Eve soup supper which was attended by several families we knew. My family was always heavily involved in the local Baptist church, and I’ve been to many church potlucks. Great chefs of the world have nothing on our Midwestern “Church Cooks.” There was always a risk of duplication – I mean how many ways can you make deviled eggs? My dad was known for his Parker House Rolls, a recipe memorized as he worked his way through college in the university bakery. Church groups have a reputation for putting together great shared dinners where everyone is welcome, and it’s always a time of great fellowship with one another. Romans 12:13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
We often had holiday dinners at Grandma Henderson’s, and we were all in the same small dining area. We kids had our own table, sitting on the piano bench to fit more in. We had regular “Birthday Dinners” at my Aunt Reet’s and at Aunt Catherine’s. (By the way, Catherine was not my aunt. She was probably a distant cousin.) Family was important and our gatherings were always centered around good food. Today, one might panic with a group of 20+ coming for dinner, but when I was a child, tables were pushed together and topped with mismatched tablecloths and dinnerware. We all gathered to say the blessing, then helped ourselves to hearty Midwestern meals as we visited. And laughed. And lovingly remained connected over time. I remember the day I was “helping” in Aunt Reet’s kitchen when I inadvertently caught a kitchen towel on fire. It was good for a laugh with a couple of my cousins, and I’m not sure we ever told my aunt! I remember enjoying Uncle’s Steve’s Denver Omelet during a visit in his home. We were always welcomed and well taken care of when we visited. Aunt Reet often included us for Christmas when my parents started traveling over the holiday. Both were examples of hospitality, a heritage passed down from my Grandma Henderson.
I have experienced many great examples of hospitality. I grew up in an open home where everyone was welcome. I spent a summer with missionaries in France when I was 17. I remember visiting the small home of a French woman who spent the day preparing a multi-course meal for us. She served each course individually. I soon learned to say, “Non, merci,” after the first serving spoon was filled, because there were at least two more spoons full to come – for each course! She didn’t invite us over to impress us with the size and decor of her home, or the beautifully matched china setting on the table. She wanted to prepare and share her wonderful meal so that I could experience a truly French meal, and she did so in a most generous, and probably sacrificial, way.
I went to college in the South and I experienced some great examples of Southern hospitality while I lived there. Southerners are well known for their warm and gracious style of welcoming others into their homes. All of these experiences have helped shape my approach to treating others, including strangers, more as valued friends than as guests. Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
For some, like my mom, having the responsibility to plan and prepare a meal for a large group was a time of stress rather than a time of enjoyment. She would sooner have eaten a bug than to have 10 people come over for a meal, but she did it, because she believed it was important to do so. Although she was always very gracious, it was not always a easy experience for her, inside. 1 Peter 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Today so much emphasis is placed on table settings and food styling that it really makes hosting or hostessing a heavy duty role to be fulfilled. It becomes more about the details and less about the time spent with friends and loved ones around good food. For some, the balance comes easy. For others, it’s a great challenge.
Most of us can put together a good meal for others when needed. Hospitality? I think that’s a gift, meant to be shared with others.