Tonight I am sleeping in a bed that is not my own, at a house I will probably never return to again.
Tomorrow morning I’m attending an important retreat with my candidacy committee in Bellville, Ohio. This retreat is a little over five hours away from my Chicago home, and almost two hours away from my parents place in Cleveland. In the scope of my reality and the people I know – it is in the middle of no where.
So, to save me from having to drive forever before a jam-packed day, this extremely kind family has opened up their home to me and offered me a room for the night. I had never met them before, and as far as I know, they don’t really know anyone I know. It just so happens that the hostess is a seminary student at Trinity and heard through the grapevine that I was traveling a long distance to get here. Being a student while having a daughter who is a college student, she offered me a place to stay.
This is a very odd experience.
Let me be clear – this is not a manger/stable ro0m-and-board situation. I was served a delicious meal, participated in lovely conversation, and am sleeping in a bedroom nicer than one I have ever owned myself. My hostess even provided me with little soaps and lotions, like you would see at a hotel. And, as I write this, a beautiful tomcat named William is curled up at my side.
It is an odd experience because I feel like I am seeing a side to the world that I have never known. These people truly want nothing from me but to provide me with a good night’s rest so I can participate in a retreat that will help me grow and evolve as an individual. Somewhere deep inside, I knew that hospitality could be like this, but I think there was always a part of me which doubted the sincerity of it, and doubted further still the possibility of it.
The only time I have ever come close to feeling this welcome was when I was in Atlanta for the Academy of Preachers camp. One night we attended a bible study at Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church. Much like tonight, I had my reservations. I had never been to a mega-church before, and worried I wouldn’t belong. The sheer size of the worship space was astounding. My mind was blown walking into an area that had easily over 100 people and a praise band – just for bible study! We started the night off in song, and in the midst of one song, all of the visitors were asked to remain standing while the members sat down. The music leader said, “See the people standing? These people need to be welcomed!” As music played, every single member in that bible study walked around, shook my hand and told me how glad they were to have me worshiping with them.
I had never experienced anything remotely close to that moment until tonight. I was truly treated like one of the family, and I have no doubt that tomorrow will embrace me with more kindness from these tender people.
It feels so good to be welcomed into the house of our God, whether that house is an ocean-side parish, a crystal mega-church, or the humble bedroom housing a purring cat.
I am so grateful for this evening, to experience Christ’s message in this way. Even when I don’t always know who is going to be opening the door, I know it is Christ’s essence that will welcome me in.