Virtual Hospitality

I conducted a marriage interview on the weekend, for a delightful young couple I have known for some time. They came round to the house, as they have many times in the past. On the morning of their visit we realised that there had been almost no visitors to our home in nearly three months.

We started tidying, Fiona cooked a slice and, for a short moment, we felt slightly discombobulated. When they arrived, we nodded with affection and appreciation (handshakes, kisses and hugs sadly absent!) and welcomed them, once more, into our home.

We have tried to ensure that our home has always been an open one for friends and guests alike. Yet, due to this season of pandemic and response, almost no one has passed, physically, over the front step since the beginning of March.

We have, however, had loads of guests – pastoral and worshipful, meetingful and familial – in the last trimester. We have gathered the church from across the Synod and beyond, heard fine sermons and shared in Saltbush (and several other) Cafés. Our family has blown out virtual birthday candles, and good friends living in English isolation have shared their breakfast with us while we had dinner.

The challenge of physical isolation has been met and, occasionally, overcome by the blessing of meeting more people in a day than I might normally meet in a week. I have shared worship in Ballina in the morning, popped into Bathurst morning tea, slipped past Bowral’s Facebook Sunday worship and completed my day in Saltbush Café that afternoon.

Always welcome, and certainly blessed.

We have asked, again and again in the last few months, what does discipleship look like in this different time? What does mission look and sound like?

We can begin, as we have always needed to, with hospitality. Not words made tepid by repetition like tolerance and inclusion, but the deliberate act of making people welcome and safe.

Whenever we are able to worship together again with each other, physically, we need to remember what we have learned from this time. Those who could not and would not come to church, came to online worship. Those who did not feel safe in small groups could watch and share in a zoom café. Those who felt disconnected found a new way to connect.

How shall we show hospitality – in the new ways, in the old ways, in the ways in which our God has always made us welcome?

Originally written for Ruminations,
the rural journal for the Synod of NSW & ACT,
Uniting Church in Australia

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