A couple of the ladies in our book discussion group have commented recently on how simply and graciously I make it look to have them in our home week after week. Reflection on those comments reminded me that hosting is something I have learned over the years. Today I'd like to share some tips with you about how you, too, can simply and graciously open up your space so relationships can be made and can grow.
The root of my desire to have people filling our home comes from the way I was raised - thanks, mom! Mom loved to throw parties, feed people, and, primarily, make sure people felt loved and cared for: from neighbors to my dad's graduate students, from her friends to ours. Consequently, people loved to be in our house and knew they would be welcomed there. In my adult life, I have been driven by a desire to help people feel comfortable, especially those who are in a new place. In graduate school we lived with many international student families. God gave me opportunities to host play groups, holiday meals, and be a welcoming face and friend on the playground. I felt a sense of mission not only as an American, but as an ambassador for Christ.
More recently, I have been influenced by Sally Clarkson and her tireless encouragement to make happen what you yourself want. You feel the need for a playgroup? Start one! Can't find a women's Bible study? Lead one! You just need a friend? Be one! I have been blessed 1,000-fold by taking Sally's advice. I cannot over emphasize how wise such advice is!
Make no mistake, I also highly value hospitality. I believe God has given me the gift of hospitality, which comes with a compulsion to welcome others and make sure they feel loved and cared for, especially when they are in "my" space. But whether or not you have this particular gift, you can learn to be hospitable and use your space and place to make room for relationships to flourish!
Thus, without further ado, I present to you:
Heather's Simple Gathering-Hosting Tips!
Identify a Target Group - Do you want to get to know some specific folks in your neighborhood or church or work? You may be thinking of two friends or all of the women in your congregation. Either way, think about who you want to have or who really needs to have a space to find relationships. When we first moved to our current town, I had no idea how I was going to get to know ladies at church. So a few months into our time there, (and since I was not new to hosting and we had plenty of space), I put an announcement in the bulletin and invited all the women in the church to tea, because I needed some friends.
Forty or fifty women came!
Don't do all the work - When I hosted that gathering of ladies, I followed a pattern I had used when hosting informal women's gatherings when we lived in Pittsburgh: provide the drinks and ask people to bring food, if they are able. No one is put off by that! In fact, people love a chance to prepare and share their favorite appetizer or dessert with others. So, when I have a larger gathering, I make it pot luck. My primary focus is making space for relationships to blossom and flourish, not to be praised for all the work I did or to win a culinary award. Believe me, when you have women, beverages, and food, relationships are a natural byproduct!
One more note, you can invite your family to help you get things ready, too. I'm fairly certain that my ten year old could host a tea for me if I were indisposed. I think that's pretty cool. And my husband helps to get the kids into picking up the place before our Sunday night book club, which brings us to our next topic.
Put housekeeping in its proper place - Earlier in my hosting days, I would get really nuts and be inhospitable to my family while getting ready to extend hospitality to others. I have learned a couple of things to keep my priorities straight. First, Martha Stewart's not coming to the gathering, so chill out. In fact, even those who are are excited about your invitation so they can get in your space to critique you. They're coming to be with you! Secondly, a little mess or disorder sets most people at ease. It is a blessing to others to know that their gracious hostess also a place for everything and everything is not in it's place, just like at their house. I do try to make sure no one will trip over anything when they are here and I do like to vacuum. But often parts of the kitchen counters look like what they looked like on Sunday night when my ladies came over. I used the dining table above for our drinks.
Choose a signature style - I have a pattern, so every time I have a gathering I set things up in a similar way. Out come the china tea cups and the boxes of tea. A pitcher needs to be filled with water while the kettle boils. Milk into the pitcher and fill the sugar bowl. Brew a pot of coffee, and so on. Having done such events with small and large groups numerous times makes the process quite simple now. But early on I wrote out a list each time so I would not forget anything, scatter-brained but detail-oriented person that I am. Tea parties might not be your thing. You might be more of a pop, chips, and video games or a movie kind of host. Or maybe your style tends more toward meeting up at a coffee shop. Remember, the goal is making space for relationships. Do that in the way that you feel most comfortable and your guests will feel at ease as well!
Friends, I hope this is enough to get you thinking about how you might use your place, no matter the size, to create space for people to get to know one another and for relationships to be fostered. The Lord has given each of us a specific space and specific contacts at this moment in our lives, right now. Let me encourage you to take advantage of whatever He has provided and use it to bring light into dark places!
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13