Last week my cottage was overflowing with love and laughter as I hosted a clergy/educator retreat. There were seven of us in all traveling from as far away as Texas for the five day gathering. The formal purpose of the retreat was known in advance – to consider ways to nurture hospitality within a congregation. Without announcing it however, I wanted to add something more to the agenda for the week… I wanted to offer these guests of mine hospitality. I wanted them to experience the blessing of not only feeling welcomed but also feeling at home in this summer place of mine. The retreat began on Monday with a cruise on the Segwun, a coal-powered steamboat that has been welcoming people to Muskoka since the 1880s. The wether was glorious and the trip enjoyed by all. The next three days however were wet and cool and instead of enjoying Muskoka, we enjoyed being indoors with one another! The gift of this group is that they are all friends and very comfortable with one another. Conversation comes easy to them. We talked and laughed and talked some more for much longer than I expected during those three days. I shared my sabbatical experience with them and asked them tough questions and they never balked once. I asked them when they have experienced hospitality in their ministry and where they have not. I was shocked to learn that all of those present had been fired or pushed out of a church they were serving at some point in their ministry. They shared the pain of that experience as well as the growth that followed as they moved forward from it. All of them claim to be stronger and more hospitable for having endured the inhospitality of the church. I was left wondering whether this dark side of the church isn’t more prevalent than any of us wants to believe. They all shared wonderful stories of hospitality in the church too, and it is those stories that feed and nurture their souls still. They encouraged me to seek out the most hospitable people in the Hidenwood congregation and to work with them to nurture hospitality in the church. They suggested a format not unlike the one I used with them for the retreat. One of the truths I realized on this retreat is that hospitality takes time. When you prepare a meal for someone, when you send off a caring note or card, when you stop by to visit someone in need, these things take time and in today’s high-speed world, time is a precious commodity. Perhaps that is why hospitality is in such scarce supply nowadays. We took time. We spent five glorious days together – talking, laughing, eating, drinking and playing. When it was all over everyone agreed that it was too short. We needed more time… more hospitality. One person put it this way: “You’ve started a tradition with this retreat because this has to become an annual affair!” Hospitality is like that… once you get a taste of it you’ve got to have more!
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