I was a freshly minted pastor living in a newly painted and repaired parsonage. In July I had moved in, and I heard stories of how proud the congregation was of its parsonage. I could tell that they had modernized both of the bathrooms and redecorated the guest room upstairs.
Once fall hit, I began to hear a few people say it was perhaps time for the new pastor to host an open house. Some Sunday afternoon invite everyone who wants to come from the three churches. They will want the chance to visit with you informally. They will be curious about what the inside of your house looks like. They will want to see how you decorated it.
It was a small parish, but not that small. There were three congregations. There was the potential for a lot of people to walk through my house that afternoon. I needed to be able to serve them. I needed to have food and coffee (these are Lutherans after all) and other refreshments. And I was a single pastor: there was no pastor's wife to pay attention to what was running out and to replenish. I started to plan and fret and think about logistics. I wanted to be generous. Though I am not an accomplished baker, I wanted to bake something.
In the midst of my fretting and caring, someone from one of the churches took me aside and said: "If you want to make something, Pastor, you go right ahead. But don't worry about doing all the cooking. And don't worry about serving. We will also bring treats, and we will serve. We want you to be able to spend your time visiting, not serving."
It is something a freshly-minted pastor needs to hear, sometimes: ministry is not just about how much you do, how you rush around and serve and create programs and make things happen. Ministry is about how you sit and listen.
I wanted to show hospitality: that's the truth. I wanted to be a good pastor: that's also the truth. What those women were telling me was that their first priority for me, as their pastor, was to know them. They wanted me to know their names, hear their stories, and listen. They wanted me to begin to know what the rhythm of their lives was like. That is as much hospitality as staying up late making brownies and running around filling coffee cups.
These past few days I'm thinking that these lessons apply not just to pastors and parish members, but to whole communities. I'm thinking that while most of us want to be smart and in charge and running around with the answers, but the first thing we often need to do is sit and listen. In communities I'm thinking of the conversations we need to have around race and privilege, around profiling and fear. And I'm especially thinking that those of us who are white need to sit and listen to those communities of color in our neighborhood, to know their names, to listen to their stories, to hear their perceptions and their reality. But for us it means not being in control. It means being attentive to someone else's agenda, not just my own. It means shifting our perceptions.
I think of the women of the church, who wanted me to sit still and listen. Here I was, a freshly-minted pastor from the big city. What did I know about the rhythms of rural life? To truly serve them I needed to sit still and listen. I think about the pain and fear in our communities, the things we don't know or won't believe because we don't sit still and listen.
There is more than one kind of hospitality: that's the truth. But true hospitality always puts the other person in the center, in some ways or another. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone is to sit still and listen.