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Be Hospitable Thyself

My church is made up of mostly young couples, that is to say, young adults in their twenties and thirties having babies or just starting out. I’ve been attending for over a year bc I agree with their theology. However a lot of them have known each other since diapers and there’s a problem with friendliness towards visitors. It took a long time before I was accepted into the fold. One thing that happened while I was still new and bothered me was a concept one couple came up with called `family dinner`. Basically they announced that they wanted to get to know other couples so they had a new program where three spouses would sign up to eat at their house and bring a side, then they (the hosts) would provide the main dish. Kids could come to of course. I’m sure it was meant kindly, and a few months later I know and like the couple but at the time it miffed me a little. It seems to me if you want to know someone better, you talk with them a bit and invite them over… It’s about you extending hospitality out to them…. not, `hey, WE want to meet more people so YOU should sign up to meet US!` …not to mention it was for couples, so it was another exclusion of sorts. I’ve shared the story with my Dad, an Emilio Post of sorts (ha ha) and he said that it was good intended and meeting new people was a good idea, but still felt a little odd. What does the etiquette dame and readers think? 0922-13

A lack of hospitality is ubiquitous to not only the entire culture but endemic in churches.  The irony of that reality is that Christians are commanded by scripture* to show hospitality which is also a primary criteria for church leadership.   It really doesn’t matter which church one attends, the problem is so widespread.   It is the exceptional church that has a very hospitable congregation.

So,what to do?  My personal belief is that I can only be responsible for myself and therefore I take the initiative to offer hospitality myself as opposed to waiting for someone else to do it.   I have encountered many women over the years who complain of being lonely yet when I ask if they are doing any hospitality themselves, the answer is nearly always, “No”.   I’ve known women who have cried at the receipt of an invitation to a holiday luncheon I host yet as the years roll by, it becomes apparent that while they enjoy the fruits of others’ hospitality, they themselves see no particular reason to do it themselves. They do absolutely nothing and appear to be waiting for others to clamor to invite them to something.  It becomes a very one sided interaction that is sure to lead to relationship failure and as someone who is always taking the lead to extend hospitality, I cannot begin to tell you how discouraging it can be to feel like I am pulling that hospitality “sled” all by myself.    I’ve become less merciful in regards to women who complain of loneliness yet take no steps to change that by reaching out to others to begin forming friendships through hospitality.

I searched your submission and could not any reference to you being a hospitable person to your fellow church members.   It’s basically a gripe about other people’s lack of hospitality when the reality may be that you need to step up and become more hospitable yourself.

So, what does hospitality look like?   While I do host big parties for families and couples, most of my hospitality these days is one on one or small groups.  I host an annual holiday luncheon for 6-8 women, regardless of whether they are married or not.   I have one woman over for lunch and serve chicken salad, fruit salad and chips…nothing complicated.   I meet others at restaurants and I pay for the bill…..a local Chinese lunch buffet is a favorite spot.   Invite several single adults to lunch after church, in the building, and bring a crockpot of soup or chili as the main dish.   One friend of mine cannot easily leave her home to come to my house or go to a restaurant due to the need to care for an elderly parent so I bring lunch with me when I visit.    Look for ways to be hospitable.    A funeral years ago gave us the opportunity to serve others when it became apparent that the entire family would be hastily traveling to the burial site an hour away immediately after the conclusion of the funeral service which was right at lunch time.   We packed 27 lunch bags for them to take and eat on the road.

And it doesn’t need to expensive.  Friends of mine are well known for serving homemade milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches to guests for an after church lunch.   Another couple was so poor that they served pancakes.  They are the two most hospitable families I know because they understand that it is relationship building that is important, not whether the food was high end.

* An excellent book on the subject is “The Hospitality Commands – Building Bridges to Friends and Neighbors” by Alexander Strauch


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  • Huh September 24, 2013, 7:27 am

    @Another Sarah – Thanks for the ideas! 🙂

  • acr September 24, 2013, 8:57 am

    I agree with Katie. I would like to add – check out the prices on renting a room. My friend got married in the community center, which costs $15 a day to rent. It has tables, chairs and a full kitchen. Most churches I have been to also have a full kitchen.

  • Kimstu September 24, 2013, 12:12 pm

    @Huh: “I would actually LOVE to host a game night event at my house for my friends (these friends and some of my others). The problem is I have only ever hosted a few things at my house because it is way too small for a large number of people. You can fit 5 people in my tiny living room somewhat comfortably, but you are pushing it. I can only accommodate 4 at my table, so big dinner parties are out and some games require everyone sit at a table. So my question is, what do I do if I want to host people?”

    Good for you for wanting to take a turn pulling the “hospitality sled”. Now all you need to do is track down some local “gamer space”!

    You’re right that it really doesn’t work to cram players into a too-tiny space in your own home, but there are alternatives:

    1) See if your locality has a “bridge and games club” organization with a regular playing space. You can generally arrange to use some of their space on an off night for a fee, and bringing your own refreshments would probably be fine.

    2) Check with your local coffee shops/cafes to find one that’s “gamer friendly”. They generally have no problem with groups of several people hanging out and buying their merchandise for a few hours at a stretch. To make this a hosted offer of hospitality rather than just “let’s all meet at Cafe X and play games”, see if you can arrange in advance to set up a limited tab for, say, a certain number of drinks and other refreshments for your guests to enjoy. (If anybody wants more or different refreshments, they can buy them themselves: this might be a little too “cash bar style” to be suitable for a formal party at a restaurant, but for a friendly low-key gathering at a cafe I think it’s fine.)

    3) Do you have a very good friend or relative who would let you borrow their place for a party? It would be appropriate to offer before-and-after cleaning, I think, and make it clear that you’ll be supplying all the refreshments yourself. Try this only with someone that you feel very comfortable having an honest discussion with, because you and they definitely need to be on the same page about all the arrangements!

  • gellchom September 24, 2013, 12:20 pm

    I was going to respond to Goldie, but Katie said it perfectly. Being single or broke or busy or having a roommate or being shy or anything else isn’t an excuse to decide that you are entitled always to be only on the taking side of hospitality. Surely you could call someone up and suggest going for a walk. And, as Katie says, if all else fails, just make sure to be a fabulous guest, from hostess gift to thank you note.

    The way to have a friend is to be one. The phone works both ways.

    I sometimes feel like the people who whine that no one entertains them don’t really want friendship, they want to be aggrieved. When I was a young married. I had a single friend who complained constantly that couples always left singles out. So I made sure I invited her to absolutely everything we did — until after a few years, I realized she had never once invited us, or me alone, to so much as a cup of coffee at her house. By contrast, we have a close divorced friend who lives right near us and is a frequent guest for dinner; although I’ve never even seen the inside of his house, he does a great job of holding up his end: he always brings nice wine, he takes us out to dinner and baseball games, and he even participates (usually the only man who does so) in planning showers and other helpful stuff for big family events.

    My mom is widowed, and she has a very active social life; she gets more invitations than she can accept. As soon as she found herself single, she made it a point to start calling people and inviting them. She might make a dinner party, or have people over for a drink and then take them to a restaurant, or host a soup potluck or pizza night with her law school friends, or host a mah jong game, or even just suggest going out for lunch or a movie. She puts real thought into mixing up her guest lists of varied people who don’t know each other well (it makes for much more interesting conversation). And she’s 84. If she can pull it off, so can most people. Katie gave lots of good suggestions for people with limited budgets, space, and entertaining skill.

    As to the issue of congregations being welcoming, cold, or smothering, I can only say it’s a tough problem. At our synagogue, which is large, we’ve been wrestling with this. On the one hand, it’s nice for newcomers and outsiders to feel welcomed and included. But on the other hand, the whole point of a congregation, as opposed to just a facility where services and events are held, is that it IS a defined group of people. So if all it’s ever about is looking around for new people and getting to know them and helping them fit in, then what is it we are welcoming them to? The synagogue has to be more than its vestibule, as it were. Those who are not yet insiders and those who already simply have different needs. It’s hard to strike a perfect balance between them, but we keep trying.

    Ditto events for couples, I suppose. I actually wouldn’t have read the event in the OP’s post as meaning “couples ONLY!!” although if it is, I can see that feeling bad to singles. At the same time, though, singles events and groups are common, as are seniors’ events and women/men only and teen groups; do you have a problem with those? It’s not always about exclusion and certainly not to protect against predatory husband stealers (I have NEVER heard anyone even suggest that they were worried about that); similarly situated people are simply likely to have similar tastes, budgets, and schedules. Again, I think it’s a question of balance.

  • Kimstu September 24, 2013, 12:37 pm

    @Goldie: “I would disagree with the part of Admin’s posts that says young, single women complaining of loneliness should host parties, otherwise they’re not pulling their weight. Hosting a party is a lot of work. I’ve co-hosted with my husband when I was married, and with a boyfriend when he and I were together; I cannot begin to imagine the effort it would take for one single person to host a party. Additionally, I’m guessing that most of these women live in apartments, or with roommates, where it might not be possible to invite people over for a party. They might not even have enough dishes, silverware, table space, and chairs for all the guests.”

    Speaking as a single woman, I strongly disagree with this. I’ve hosted dinners and parties in apartments all my life, sometimes with roommates, sometimes on my own. Singlehood does NOT excuse individuals from the social duty of reciprocating hospitality, and neither does apartment living.

    Roommates? Before you move in together, work out how you will accommodate hosting events. It’s generally something as simple as “I’d like to invite a few people over for snacks and a video on Friday evening, is it okay if we take over the living room then from say 7 to 11?” Maybe you can work out some co-hosting or “reciprocal catering” agreements with a roommate, too.

    Limited space and/or equipment? Invite fewer people at a time, or look into ways to offer hospitality in spaces outside your home (see my response and others’ to @Huh above about hosting a game night).

    Time/effort/budget constraints? Plan ahead to figure out an efficient way to handle hostly duties, and don’t feel embarrassed about keeping things simple and cheap. A pot of homemade spaghetti or a takeout pizza is in no way inferior to champagne and caviar as a gesture of hospitality! Offer what you can with generosity and desire to please your guests, and they will have a good time. “Better a dinner of herbs…” and all that!

    Single women (and men too, but that’s historically been a somewhat different problem) who shirk offering hospitality because they think it’s just too big a burden for a hostess all by herself are not only imposing on the people who keep hosting them with no return, but setting themselves up for loneliness. Taking on other social tasks like organizing group movie outings is nice, but it’s just not a substitute for claiming your full role in your social circle as one of the givers of hospitality.

  • Library Dragon September 24, 2013, 5:17 pm

    Dame made very good points about pulling the hosting sled. I’ve cut way back on the number of dinners and other events I host due to lack of reciprocity. It’s no longer a gift if it’s expected of me. I’ve opted for going out to eat more with others.

    I too hosted parties as a single woman. Heck, I had a Christmas party for my barracks floor while in the Army. I set up my ironing board in the hallway and used as a table for serving food. My sons do the same. My oldest son’s home is the go to place for monthly cookouts for everyone at the restaurant where he works. Be generous and allow others to be generous. It’s an attitude that doesn’t apologize for having a small apartment, being single, etc., but that we are happy to share.

  • NostalgicGal September 24, 2013, 11:50 pm

    Re: ‘clique-y’ congregations….

    One place I lived at, I happened to be living in a ‘hole in the wall’ in a very good neighborhood, I was glad to be able to find that small apartment and afford it in a neighborhood that one could be reasonably safe in. I joined the local group, and my neighborhood was one street off ‘mansion row’. Most of the members had been there for a couple of generations and probably made more in a week than I did in a year… but. I had clothes that looked ‘good enough’ and when events and activities came up, I volunteered and showed up. I couldn’t afford a serious donation… but I was a live breathing person who could do things. I could and did roll up the sleeves and do dishes, serve, lug this and haul that. A few could have made me a doormat, I didn’t sink to allowing that to happen. In the end I was a member of the group, I gave what I had, time and effort. I am still in touch with a few of them, over 25 years later….

    It can be hard, but. Sometimes you have to put the first foot out and just go ahead and DO IT. When I retired here, I knew that it was going to be my problem to go out, make friends, join things, and DO. After several years, I do have friends, things to do, and social stuff to participate in. And I try to do my share and take my turn. Which is the important part. Friendship and group membership means you have to put some work into it too. (and yes, I have an enviable collection of platters, plates, pitchers, casserole totes, crockpots, and roasters, for when the need arises. Even an 18″ rose bowl that is perfect for doorprize drawing slip collecting)

  • Aje September 25, 2013, 9:06 pm

    Hello, I am OP.

    Since I don´t live in my own house, but my parents and they are… uh… packrats is the politest way to put it… that route of hospitality is out. My way of hospitality is when I talk to people and find out they have an interest similar to mine I invite them to go X with me. Like when I met C from Church, I discovered we both like dancing so I invited him to Salsa with me. And now we´re friends. But that route only works if people actually have a conversation with you… or if they´re willing to spend time and get to know a stranger. And getting out of the house when you have little children can be a real struggle, so it´s rather understandable getting turned down.

    C and I have talked a bit about the situation (He freely admitted it was an issue without being asked). He said that he had invited everyone from our church group over for a party, with free food and things. No one came… it was a bit discouraging to say the least.

    But anyway, you don´t give up on people. Perhaps, like me, the congregation is simply shy. Thank you all for your input. 🙂

  • Jaxsue September 27, 2013, 10:44 am

    I had to respond when I saw posts about lack of reciprocity and even one about people “not being raised right.”
    You might not know what’s going on in that person’s life (the one that doesn’t reciprocate the way you’d prefer). Maybe the home is a hoarding situation, maybe there are challenges that people want to keep hidden or that make hosting very difficult.
    This is my situation: I grew up in a minister’s home. That meant tons of entertaining, tons of company. When I got married and a place of my own I did a lot of entertaining. I really enjoyed it. Our home was small and simple, but that didn’t stop me. I’m a very social person, so entertaining came easily.
    What DID stop me was when my son was diagnosed with autism. He had violent meltdowns on a regular basis. Noises such as people clearing their throat or coughing could set him off. His 5th birthday party was the last time I had a big social event. We had a pool then, so it was a pool party. Things were going well (no meltdowns, anyway) until I discovered that he’d “painted” the guest bathroom with, well, you can guess. It’s as if a door shut on that day. I’d tried not to let his situation control our life, but I had no choice.
    I did entertain occasionally, but to be honest it was just too stressful. I had to ask then-DH to watch DS so I could attend to company. So, it became just me entertaining. And, to be honest, when you have a child with autism people tend to shy away from you, anyway – not that I blame them. Those that stay by you are your true friends. Those we could invite over. But a general invite? No, I just couldn’t. When you have broken window panes and holes in your walls due to your child’s meltdowns, and you’re on edge, worrying about someone coughing, would YOU have people in your home?
    Okay, so I could’ve taken the party elsewhere. But it would have been just me, because DH and I couldn’t have babysitters. We had to tag team. That gets pretty lonely.
    All of this to say, it killed me not to be able to entertain as I would’ve liked. So please, before you judge, know that there may be reasons for the lack of reciprocity. I sometimes wonder who I offended because I couldn’t give back the way I wanted to, the way I was raised to do. I’m not saying some people aren’t clueless; they definitely can be. But this is my story. I’m sure there are others in similar situations.