Showing hospitality in the wake of Coronavirus

We have not realized how our places — specifically, how our built environment actually shapes our souls. Suburban idols — or idols of a western world like busyness, safety, consumerism, and individualism — shape our places. Many of us live in “placeless places,” where we could be dropped into a Target or Walmart anywhere in the country and we wouldn’t know where we were. We find ourselves tied to productivity as a metric of our lovability. That is, until recently.

In just the last few weeks, we find our land of “too much” has suddenly narrowed. We feel the weight of our mortality. We wonder about our financial future or health. Over the course of the last two weeks, most of America has shut down. Schools are closed. Planes have been grounded, toilet paper and sanitizer are hard to find, and we all know more songs to wash our hands to. Parents are working from home while children are supposed to be schooling from home. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Vulnerable populations are losing income and services. We have never seen something like the global pandemic that is COVID-19.

Now more than ever, we see how our normal rhythms of busyness, ease, comfort, and control are being wrenched from our hands. And we’ve rushed to fill the void with schedules and lists.

School-age children can now see museum tours, live cams at aquariums, get free lessons in any subject imaginable, watch opera and musicals, and read ebooks to their heart’s content. If we’re Christians, we’re rushing about trying to sort out how the church can be a beacon of hope in this crisis. Creative use of technology, small acts of kindness, sacrificial giving, loving our neighborhoods, offering any skills or services we have to others – these are all things that make up the fabric of the common good. They are ways we bring hope when the future is bleak.

We pray the world would know us by our love

There has been much talk these days about how the early church grew. How Christians would care not only for their own poor but also for the poor, sick, and dying of the Roman Empire. It was Christian hospitality that made Christianity more than just a fad in a small part of the empire, but a global religion that cared for the least of these.

But before we mobilize or fill up on more doing, let’s pause. If we are to offer any kind of welcome and hope that is different from simply filling up our schedules again or in different ways, we must see the hospitality we have to offer as offering space.

Here’s what I mean: Back before the coronavirus pandemic, hospitality turned outward: “We do our small things with love. We walk our children to school, we watch their flag ceremonies, we develop relationships with the owners of the locally owned cafe, we invite people over for dinner. These are the rhythms of hospitality where we practice sustained attention. At its root, hospitality is the art of seeing other people as glorious bearers of God’s image no matter your zip-code,” (Finding Holy in the Suburbs, 92).

But now, the locally owned café isn’t open, we’re home with our immediate family, and when we’re out on walks, we’re practicing social distancing. And this is the best of circumstances. We realize the many who are unsafe in their own homes. The immigrant, the refugee, the poor, the fatherless and the widow are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

How can we practice hospitality in a time of pandemic?

Hospitality starts by opening up an inner space. Hospitality is a response to our hospitable God. This means we grieve our losses. We find our way back to God when we begin to either spin out with fear and anxiety or are desperate for this time to mean something, so we fill up our schedules with doing.

We connect ourselves to anchoring things: sleep, prayer, reading of Scripture, gathering with the body of Christ over technology. But, grieve your losses. Pray the hours. We gather on Zoom with our church family for morning prayer. We pause around the lunch table and read a psalm. At day’s end, I hold my husband’s hand and we pray to a God who neither slumbers or sleeps, “for a peaceful night and a perfect end,” in the words of the Book of Common Prayer.

Hospitality, whether in a time of pandemic or in times of peace, always starts small. Now is the time for anchoring practices. The small things are not dispensable — the kind word, the moment to breathe, the nap, the child-created card for an elderly neighbor, the hard work of justice for the least of these.

Michelle Reyes, an Indian-American church planter and writer, told me about the work she and her husband, Aaron, are doing at Hope Community Church in Austin. “Much like the church in Acts 2, we are collecting and redistributing our resources. So many people in our community have no food and haven’t eaten this week. Aaron and I have given away most of our food and TP/paper products. Now our kitchen is mostly empty.” Mobilizing the community looks like creating paid jobs for people in need, donating cars for immigrants and tents for the homeless. If you have the ability, you might practice hospitality by giving financially to those who are on the front lines.

We can be generously hospitable to our neighborhoods now. But, do not despise small beginnings.

Brad Edwards, a church planter in Boulder County, Colorado, and his wife passed out a calendar for a neighborhood scavenger hunt. Encouraging children to put up themed artwork in their windows for neighbors, though something small, is how they are showing “relational and creational generosity” during a pandemic.

You can be a church that watches movies together and texts each other while you’re watching. Neighbors can hold virtual cocktail hour conversations. You can be a friend who sends a playlist on Spotify to help someone find calm. Artists, like Andrew Lloyd Weber and Yo Yo Ma play music for Twitter masses, and Mo Willems, doodles for kids on Facebook Live video. Neighbors are using Little Free Libraries to share food with neighbors.

Find the helpers. Find the artists. Find the beauty-seekers. You do not have to be all things to all people. Start by opening yourself to God and asking him to make a home in you. Practice seeing the person right in front of you. Practice a moment-by-moment curiosity about how God has uniquely wired you, your neighborhood, and church and what God is asking of you now.

Hospitality starts by opening space — for grief, fear, and confusion given to God. It proceeds by capitalizing on the space in our time to see the real needs of your neighborhood, suburb, or city. And it is always anchored in the hope of Christ, that steadfast anchor of our souls. Now, perhaps more than ever, we feel the weight of it.

Topics: Christian Life, Current Events

About the Author

Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She’s a writer, speaker, and hosts The Finding Holy Podcast. Ashley’s married to a church planter in the southern California suburbs and is the mother to four. Her first book is Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much (IVP). Connect with Ashley at aahales.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @aahales.