For the Maritime Plymouth Brethren, hospitality has always been a way of life. Ever since they became a people in exile, they remembered the feeling of unwelcome and in turn opened their doors to strangers as a sign of abundance. My grandparents, perhaps the 12th generation of such people, remembered their own parents welcoming “hobos” for meals during the Great Depression.
Every summer when I went to visit, they had a different person staying with them or another visitor sitting at their table. My grandmother was so generous, in fact, that we would write her name on gifts in permanent marker to prevent her from giving them away to the next person who needed something. To our bewilderment, complete strangers would find her number and call to ask for help of one kind or another.
If you had asked those old Nova Scotians what hospitality meant for them, they would have given you a blank stare and offered you more molasses for your toast. To them, hospitality was just a way of life; it was as indistinguishable as oxygen running through their blood. It wouldn’t have occurred to them to do anything other than welcome guests to their home on a Sunday afternoon or to grow twice as much food as they could possibly use.
Like many children of the Depression, my grandparents didn’t go to high school, so theological language wasn’t something they could identify with. But they went early to open the church every Sunday, welcoming their neighbours in the ways they new how: handing out hymn books and cleaning up after children. Hospitality was never glamorous, but became the building blocks of their life, together and in community. It is not uncommon, decades later and halfway across the country, for me to run into people who say they ate my grandmother’s cooking or were welcomed into her home when they had no where else to go.
My grandmother was not a perfect woman and could have used a lesson in boundary-making. But if I came up with a short list of the people I’ve known that most exemplify Jesus, she would make the cut. I think of her every Thanksgiving, when we celebrate harvest by welcoming guests into our homes.
I wonder what risks she took and sacrifices she made in order to care for the people God brought across her path. Was it hard work? Uncomfortable? Probably. But did she find in hospitality the fulfillment of being who God created her to be? I have no doubt. Nearly a century following the Depression, our neighbours are perhaps more in need of hospitality than ever; may we too become people of such welcome.