A stranger sat at my dining table

This is my dinner table. It was gifted to me as a hand-me-down when I first moved out of home eight years ago. It has specs of glitter embedded in it; streaks of green and red paint have stained the wood, and there is a water-mark from a plant that adorned the table top for a few months.  This table, with its scratches and marks and as of a few weeks ago, a broken chair – is the heartbeat of my house. Countless meals, teas, coffees, milos, prayers, light-hearted conversations, heart-breaking conversations, art activities, bible studies, arguments, confessions, board games, laughter and tears have been shared at this table. This table is a symbol of the hospitality that takes place in my home.

Growing up in the church, I always thought hospitality was just about having people over for dinner, or bringing scones for the weekly morning tea at church. But hospitality is more than knowing how to host a dinner party. This quote from Henri Nouwen sums it up for me – “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines[i].” Hospitality provides a space for the Kingdom of God to reign.

When we engage in hospitality, it creates an opportunity where we are able to recognise the injustices our neighbours face. Hospitality provides a space to develop friendships and walk alongside people. When you invite people into your home, you invite them into your space and you open yourself up by sharing with them. In my experience, when you sit with someone in your home and they share the struggles of their life, you don’t just bid them farewell at the end of the conversation with a ‘great to chat, see you next time’ as you close the front door; you are moved to action.  In the middle of hospitality, we live, love and fight alongside others as they experience hardship, and ultimately participate in God’s transforming work.

In Australia One, justice is mentioned both in our Vision statement and in our mission values. Justice is integral to the gospel, and therefore to the work of The Salvation Army. Yet, in order to pursue justice, we need to recognise where injustice prevails. One way we can do this is by engaging in hospitality. When you commit to sharing life with others, you are moved when they experience hardship. As N.T. Wright puts it, “Justice is what love looks like when it’s facing the problem that its neighbour is dealing with”.

In order for justice to move beyond an Australia One buzz word within the organisation, we must start engaging in the messy parts of our neighbourhoods where injustice is prevalent. Unless Salvationists are actively engaged in their neighbourhoods, ‘working for justice’ is just another line in a corporate merger. Hospitality requires vulnerability; it requires stepping outside of our comfort zone. Are we prepared to do this? In Partnering with God, Edge and Morgan state that we are a sent people[1]. We are not sent to the four walls of our church buildings, but to the people in our neighbourhood. Salvationists are all called to engage in the mission of God, which is to join in God’s work to usher in the Kingdom. We are called to love and serve our neighbours.

Hospitality is a practical way to live, love and fight alongside people as we all seek the Kingdom. However, it is a position of power to always sit in the place of host. What would hospitality look like in your life if you were to enter the space of your neighbours? Hospitality allows for mutual transformation; it provides opportunities for us to learn and teach, provide and receive – but requires that we place ourselves in the role of guest as well as host. It is during this process that the Kingdom of God is revealed and we share in our humanity.

Practical suggestions

I moved into my current neighbourhood with the intention to be present to the community and its needs. I wanted my house to be a place of hospitality – a safe and welcoming space, particularly for young people, who would otherwise not have that. I have been in my neighbourhood for almost five years, and it has been a messy process of mistakes, learning and trialling new things.  Here are a few things I have learnt along the way:

  • Family dinners are essential! I live in a share house – and for all intents and purposes, my housemates are my family. If we are not connecting or communicating in a healthy way, any hospitality or community that comes from our house is ultimately unhealthy. We have family dinner once a week. This is an exclusive time for us to share in a meal, prayer and air any concerns we have.
  • Allocate one meal, or day a week for intentional hospitality. We found quickly that if we didn’t protect one day a week for engaging with our neighbours, life got in the way!
  • Be open to God teaching you – I have been changed more than I have changed my community. I expected that I would be helping and teaching in the neighbourhood, but God has taken this time and used my neighbours and community to teach me.
  • Hospitality still requires ‘rules’. Practising hospitality does not mean you give up all your space. I live with introverts so down-time is very important for the mental health and energy of my housemates. Additionally, there is an expectation then when people enter our house – they still respect the people and the things in it.

The command to act justly, love mercy and walk humble with your God is a theme embedded throughout the bible. How is God asking you to seek justice? In what ways may God be prompting you to create spaces for hospitality? How can you be a representative of Jesus in the places most impacted by hardship and injustice?

An opinion piece by Amanda Merrett

[1] Edge & Morgan, 2017. Partnering with God.

[i]Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life 

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