Have you ever been greeted by someone with a smile that you are quite certain was only skin deep?
On the other hand, have you received an apology that you could tell was heartfelt and earnest?
We may not always be able to tell when someone is genuine, but often we have a good sense of it. This is why we work hard to hire staff who have a calling to offering hospitality, who feel that this is part of who they are. This is also why we continually talk about hospitality as a staff, to remind ourselves of our calling. By cultivating a community focused on offering hospitality, we work to ensure that it is a heartfelt expression.
One thing that I am coming to learn about offering genuine hospitality is that the goal is about meeting the guests’ needs, not necessarily giving them precisely what they ask for. For example, when a guest may ask for extra napkins, we have learned to ask why. This is because if they have spilled their glass, napkins may do an acceptable job of containing the mess, but a kitchen towel may do the job even better.
What this brings to light is that genuine hospitality is not an end in itself, but rather that hospitality that makes a difference in people’s lives is one way of offering God’s love to people. When we offer real hospitality, it is through caring for the person, listening intently to whatever it is they are willing to share, and honing in on the person’s deeper needs. We’ve experienced that genuine hospitality responds to people’s needs with love and acceptance, and works to acknowledge and help people meet those needs.
Christian hospitality calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves in very tangible ways. It enters into that mystery of dying to self, and through that dying, finding joyous life in loving God and others.
This love is what we are sensing when people are offering genuine hospitality as opposed to a veneer of hospitality. Surface hospitality is offered to people with an agenda of meeting one’s own needs. Genuine hospitality is offered solely to care for the guest.
I think this distinction of the heart is a mirror that we need to hold up to ourselves. Is my congregation offering hospitality because we want to keep the congregation going or because we want the very best for our guests? How does my workplace treat its customers and why?
Genuine hospitality calls us to see that the most basic acts-- greeting, feeding, listening-- when done with great love can transform a day.