catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 15 :: 2011.09.02 — 2011.09.15


Sunday lunch

When I first moved to Grand Rapids, I began attending a local church at precisely the wrong moment. I stepped into a congregation lacking in college students and in the midst of acclimating to a new and very different head rector. I stayed for the semester, but didn’t return for the next, opting for what I thought would be a more hospitable community at a different, much larger church. For a while, I held the belief that the presence of peers was sufficient to pass as a community, but I found myself unable to connect with them and the church to be no great help as a place in which I could engage with my faith in conversation with others.

So I left and went back to the church I had passed through as a first-year student, not knowing where else to start. I expected to be able to slip in and out and mostly use that Sunday as an opportunity to compare what had kept me there for the first semester to what I enjoyed about the larger church. As I sat in the pew quietly jotting a few stray, morning thoughts in my notebook, I looked up to see three young men about my age walk into the sanctuary. They must have started coming after I had left because I didn’t recognize them at all. They kindly waved and sat down at the other end of my pew. A few more college students floated in, gathering near the boys who had come in after me — then a few more and a few more until I was surprised to see, trailing behind, two people I actually knew. They’d never come before, but a friend had brought them, and that friend served as our liaison to the growing gaggle of young adults near my seat.

The service began, cutting off our conversation, but afterwards we all collected in the parish hall for coffee and cookies. Gathered there, we were an easy target for a gracious young family who invited us over for lunch. Not all of the students present that Sunday accepted the invitation — the demand of homework is sometimes impossible to ignore — but that one invitation spawned many more and began what became dubbed as the tour of hospitality through willing families in the church. Each week during the academic year, one of the families invited as many of the college students as were interested and able to come to their house for a home cooked meal. There was food, laughter, children, pets, coffee, but best of all, a growing community. I had found a place.

Through this ministry of meals, the young adults of the church began to form closer bonds, even developing a routine of getting together at one of our own houses for a midweek meal that would keep us in personal contact between Sunday gatherings. These meals were a time of encouraging each other in our faith on a more personal and intimate level even than the Sunday meals, but, like all things, they had their imperfections. Not everyone was willing or able to volunteer the time to make the meal, nor were our schedules wide enough to allow for completely relaxed meals that could gently roll into late night conversations. Various members of this small group of hungry students had evening activities that kept them from arriving on time and swooped them out before all the dishes had been cleared from the table. For the most part, there was a general sense of understanding about these other commitments, but at times the pattern of business hurt our collective ability to extend wholly gracious hospitality either as host or guest.

The vulnerability of hospitality makes it difficult to discuss the tensions that can begin to build when either the host or guest feels as though they are bearing a disproportionate share of the difficulty in opening their personal time to incorporate a shared meal. As a host, it is frustrating to have all the guests leave, hurrying to their next commitment, only to remain alone, unthanked, and with dishes to clean. Equally, it is difficult to be a gracious guest when the quantity of food prepared underestimates the hunger of the guests. No one wants to point out a lack of food to their host, nor does a host want to make their guests feel as if they must work for their food, yet it is far too easy to forget the difficulties of one role while filling the other.

I cannot claim to be a perfect host or guest, but I was surprised to discover that there is a great disparity between the desire to cultivate hospitality and an ability to extend it gracefully. I deserve no credit for starting these weekly meals; that falls to a young man with whom I have become a close friend. From the very beginning I admired his bravery in turning what began as one lunch with a church family into a tour connecting congregants across generations. In light of this admiration I was surprised to discover that he too struggles with embodying the hospitality required of a guest within this community for which he was the instigator. For me, it highlights the difficulty of moving from a vision to a reality, even for public leaders with the best intentions.  Sometimes our enthusiasm outreaches our abilities; at these times we must rely of the forgiveness of those with whom we are interacting to extend the hospitality of grace and pick up where we have fallen behind. While we are still learning how to balance the responsibilities of guest and host, the practice of these meals has been a formative part of all of our lives over the past year, instilling in us the courage to expose our vulnerability and take a chance at hospitality and community.

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