The first week we attended church in Bozeman, MT as newlyweds, we were invited to supper with 3 different families. Those invitations continued to be extended and accepted for months as Jen and I were settling into a new community, starting a new life together, and trying to figure out what it meant to leave college and begin life as working professionals. The meals to which we were invited developed friendships and a sense that we belonged to that church and were being welcomed into it. It was a sign of true community; welcoming people, spending time with them in one’s home, asking questions, and sharing life. The 5 months we lived in Bozeman were wonderful months and they solidified in our minds that community-building involves hospitality.
Hospitality is so much more than simply a meal invitation, or a time for tea, but it certainly involves these things. There is something about food that is shared together that makes for an inviting and more relaxed time. It is why businesspeople do lunches. It is why fundraising events frequently involve meals or desserts. Food bonds people and opens conversation and sharing in a way that standing around doesn’t. The same was true in Jesus’ day. He was lamented by the religious people for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. His first miracle at Cana was part of a marriage feast. The closing pages of Scripture hold out to the people of God a picture of a banquet to which the righteous will eat with their Savior. It doesn’t matter where one looks in Scripture, food is frequently present, and food plays a major part in building communal life. That is one of the reasons why the book of Acts records the blanket vision of Peter in which all kinds of things are present, and Peter is told to kill and eat (Acts 10:9ff). Without being willing to eat together, the Jew and the Gentile would never be able to become the body of Christ and the lost would never hear the good news of Jesus. Meals build bridges inside and outside the church. Meals make fellowship and community possible. Meals aid in sharing our faith with those who don’t know Jesus yet.
If meals together are such an important thing for building a community, then what steps can those who attend Hope in Christ Church take to strengthen and expand the Community of Christ? There are a few things.
First, we must open our eyes beyond those whom we already fellowship with and see those who are new in our midst, or at least new to us. Invite them over to a meal, dessert, or to have coffee or tea. Try to make it a habit of inviting over or getting together with someone new to you a few times a month. This will expand your community and extend the warm welcome we are known to give to people.
Secondly, make it a habit of inviting one of your neighbors over each month who doesn’t know Jesus yet. Get to know them, share life together. Take a genuine interest in their life. You make be surprised at how easy it is to share the faith when you have a genuine relationship. Don’t be discouraged if your invitations are rejected. Keep on asking those in your neighborhood until you get a yes. Spend the week before you invite someone praying for God to work in their heart – to accept and prepare the way in advance.
Thirdly, don’t assume that the meal must be fancy, or the house has to be spotless. People are interested in the real you, not the fabrication we put on when we try to perfect things. We are normal people, living in normal houses that have normal problems keeping up with it all. A warm welcome goes a long way. The chances are that you will be more concerned about the mess than your guest. I don’t know how many times people have commented that they are relieved to see that they aren’t the only ones who live in a mess. But I have never been commented upon how clean my home is. So relax, have a meal with someone new once or twice a month, and genuinely get to know those newer people, giving them the gift of yourself. That is how true community is built.