Hospitality: Ministry in the Neighborhood
by Clair Good
Pastor of Waynesboro Mennonite Church, Waynesboro, Va.
Recently I enjoyed a fun and dynamic time with my three-year-old granddaughter. She was adamant that I “look” at the plethora of things she wanted to show me. I don’t speak Spanish and she doesn’t speak English. Her mother was born in D.R. Congo, grew up in Kenya and the US, but now serves with MCC in Nicaragua. It was pure joy to sit, play and laugh together. Though our languages were different, we communicated deeply. I have come to understand that listening to each other, even when we don’t fully understand, while receiving and offering hospitality, is the language of connectedness and transformation. Just like my granddaughter, some things don’t seem to change with time or culture.
The language of love is exhibited in hospitality and the willingness to relate to people who are different than ourselves, even though we may not fully understand each other’s culture and “language.” Today, people communicate differently about church and issues than in the past.
Waynesboro Mennonite Church (WMC) is a mature congregation. Some may be concerned about our long-term viability because of our age demographic. We are building with what we have. Our church tag line is “Imperfect People Reflecting God’s Love.” A missional foundation was laid by WMC founder pastor Roy Kizer and reinforced by pastors following him.
The Waynesboro congregation has a gift of hospitality. As part of my pastoral discernment process, my wife, Beth and I attended a Sunday morning service at WMC as strangers. We wanted to see what the church was really like. Would it be like many other churches where you feel like a stranger, even though the sign outside says Everyone Welcome?
The music, service and sermon were great, but we were most impressed by the hospitality. We were greeted warmly by almost everyone in the congregation.
I was curious how the church family would respond to the untimely and uncomfortable death from suicide of a church family member. I decided to attend to be supportive to the grieving family. Because of the dynamics, I expected only a few people to attend the service. I wept as I pulled into the parking lot and saw the whole parking lot and field behind the church full of cars as the church family and community came together to support each other as we mourned together.
I am convinced this is the kind of hospitality we need to be an effective spiritual presence in a community. Since becoming pastor a few months ago, I have watched as visitors are welcomed and embraced as part of our extended church family. When asked why new members are attending, a common response is, “We like the music, but the hospitality is awesome. We feel like we are at home and accepted as we are.”
Waynesboro Mennonite has some of the best fellowship meals. We love to eat together. Yes we have good Mennonite cooking, but the fellowship around the tables is refreshing and builds community. A person was looking for a church for some time. After attending WMC the first time, he said, “I have found my church home. I was welcomed as part of the family.”
Recently we did a funeral for a church member. After the funeral some of the extended family members began attending. Soon they were bringing other family members, who, like themselves, experienced this contagious spiritual hospitality and have found a home at WMC.
For a number of years, Waynesboro Mennonite has been hosting Kids Club. A group of us form a walking school bus to collect the children. This process opens the door for conversation with family and friends on the streets around our church. Again, our contagious spiritual hospitality seems to be working for us.During a recent week, WMC hosted the Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry (WARM) shelter by offering our building and hospitality to our homeless friends in our community. This is where we shine. Our mature members don’t need to have lots of energy to serve food. They don’t preach at our friends and guests. We do what we do best. We sit, listen, laugh, and talk with our friends. We respond to their needs. Our contagious spiritual hospitality impacts those we interact with, and God opens the door for ministry.
WMC hosts the Iglesia Christiana Shalom church plant, led by Armando and Veronica Sanchez. We don’t speak the same language, but the contagious spiritual hospitality goes in both directions as we endeavor to partner to reach our community with Christ’s love.
Waynesboro Mennonite is mature and many of our members don’t have the energy they once had. Yet they are using the gifts that God has given them.
We sit next to the new person. We greet them and welcome them. We listen to their stories even when they are quite different from our own. Throughout the Old and New Testament, we find that God evaluated the spirituality of a community by their hospitality—or lack thereof. Waynesboro Mennonite Church is building on the gift we have. Just like my granddaughter, the language of transformation and community outreach is best accomplished by receiving and giving hospitality in love. We think our contagious spiritual hospitality will reach our community. We are growing.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. —1 Peter 4:8-10