When hospitality is hard

Christianity is practiced around the table.

Maybe you’re hearing the call to increase your hospitality, but your house makes it hard. I can imagine, we lived in a building site for over a year as we slowly renovated our house through the pandemic.

There are two answers to this: 1) we’re trying too hard, and 2) there’s something wrong with our houses.

We’re trying too hard

It doesn’t have to be fancy to be special. It doesn’t have be fine dining. I imagine you realised that, but we wanted to host some people when we didn’t have a kitchen, so Helen whipped a baking tray of potatoes around to our friend Becky who lives around the corner, Becky baked the potatoes in her oven, and we opened a tin of tuna and heated some baked beans in the microwave. We ate in the garden. Dinner for 7, simple.

You don’t have to do that, but if you eat you could share that.

There are situations which make it genuinely difficult. Perhaps you simply can’t afford it, and that’s not a dodge; things are just tight. Maybe you live in a house share and your housemates aren’t up for helping you host. Maybe you rent a house and the landlord cruelly turned the dining room into a downstairs bedroom to make a bigger profit (please stop that, landlords). OK, then be a guest.

If we all lay tables we won’t have anyone to invite to them. If you honestly can’t host but would love to be “around the table” more, then I would recommend being a little less British and inviting yourself round to someone else’s. “I’d love to host you but I can’t, could I cook for you and some others in your kitchen?”

It sounds glorious. You’re very welcome here any time.

There’s something wrong with our houses

When considering where to live Christians should—within their means—consider others before themselves. How many people can I fit in my dining room? Is this house easier for others to get to? 

We are very often restricted by the available housing stock. I doubt many of us have a thought through theology of the built environment, I certainly don’t, but we probably need one.

I would imagine one of the first steps would be to encourage spaces that make it easier to invite people into your home. Our traditional housing stock in the UK tends to have small dining rooms and larger living rooms, modern housing has largely continued this trend often with smaller and smaller rooms all round. When we can influence this, we should try as hard as we can to produce spaces that are conducive to community.

If you’re a Christian architect, take note. Please build us spaces for big tables, whether dining rooms or in the kitchen. Whether we want them or not, they’re good for us!

If you have the means to own a large house with ample room to welcome people in, or perhaps to extend your existing home, this is not an inherently bad thing. We must wage war against our own wealth and the impact it has on our hearts, and in the UK at least against our cultural tendency to isolation “an Englishman’s home is his castle”. That doesn’t make having wealth or owning a castle (sounds hard to heat, but very cool) inherently wrong.

How do we do this? We use this space as a gift that God has given to build community within our churches, we are generous with our homes, our time and our finances by filling them with people and feeding them. If that is you, may your tribe increase.

This is a modestly radical suggestion, only because our home is considered private space for us and our small family unit. Recovering a Biblical sense of the church as the household of faith and as our family will move us towards believing that our walls are given to us to serve others.

It’s not your house.

Perhaps if you looked up your home with the land registry it would be your name that owns the house. Who cares, it’s not yours.

It belongs, every brick and beam, to the Lord who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. It’s not your house. It’s a gift given to you by God to do you and others’ good. I need to hear this more than anyone. I have poured literal blood, sweat, tears into the old money pit I am slowly wrestling into something like a home. It is not my house. It is my home, and it is a gift.

This is, I am very aware, middle-classed approach. I’m (very) middle-classed. My church is more middle-classed than I’d like. I’m speaking from what I know. But, if your home is small, and many in the UK are some of the smallest in the developed world, then what can you do? Make generous use of the space that you have. Invite yourself to someone else’s.

Contrary to popular wisdom I wonder if a home group is ‘full’ when it’s too big to sit around a table. We should consider the table to be the hub of the home. It’s where we eat together, where we open our Bibles together, where we look each other in the eye to forgive and repent.

This might make for some small groups—or groups hosted in other people’s homes than the leaders—and would cause a serious demographic challenge in my very young church as homes are like waistlines: they get bigger with age. It’s probably not sustainable as part of a pastoral structure within a church but hear the provocation. Sitting around a living room discussing the Bible has a distressingly different feel, level of interaction and type of conversation than sitting around a table. Home groups discussions tend to be better around a table, pastoral conversations on a sofa.

What’s the solution? Those of us who have, share. Those who have not, receive. Or something more like: And all who believed were together and had all things in common (Acts 2.44).

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash