Photo Credit: Wendi Bernau

Photo Credit: Wendi Bernau

By Wendi Bernau, Creative Facilitator
Missional Wisdom Foundation

The Thanksgiving holiday is a mixed blessing. I may not be able to be with family I love; I may even be obligated to spend time with family I struggle to love well. If I’m hosting the party, I desire to practice hospitality. I’m curious: What comes to mind when you hear that word, hospitality? 

Sometimes hospitality means providing welcome and refreshment, like in a hotel: Smile. Offer a drink, snacks, and a clean, comfortable place to rest. I sat in a hotel this morning eating breakfast alone. While my physical needs were met, I sensed that I was merely permitted to be there. I had paid money and they had provided me with the service of hospitality. 

Hospitality can also be a particular kind of experience, like a Disney attraction: an environment where guests anticipate magic. Everything is picture-perfect, happy and somewhat utopian. However, there is a definite boundary of intention for my presence. There is also a space in which I, as a guest, am not permitted to be. I am welcome here, but not there. 

Both of these examples provide hospitality for individuals or cluster groups to feel welcome, but do not encourage development of a larger community.

Last week, I attended a conference on the Art of Hosting, during which fifty strangers gathered to practice the skill of cultivating spaces conducive to connective conversation. In other words, to employ intentionally this skill we call hospitality. Of all the wonderful things I experienced over these four days, I am still hearing the opening statement from one of the facilitators: “I have read a little about the amazing things you all do….and I cannot wait for you to meet each other.” Not only were we comfortable physically, not only did we feel welcome and anticipate a magical happening, but there was a strong sense that each of us individually belonged there, each had something to contribute, that we individuals were intended to be there together. We needed each other, each and every one, to take this dynamic experience to its fullest potential.

This is the difference between offering hospitality or offering belonging as an act of hospitality. Sometimes it’s the simplest nuance that can make the difference. Intentionally inviting someone into a close physical space rather than just scooting over to make room subtly but significantly shifts the energy of that encounter. It says, “I don’t just tolerate your presence; I genuinely desire it. You belong here."

As you gather with whomever you find yourself with this Thanksgiving, how can you offer belonging as an act of hospitality?