Hospitality can encourage what discussion and debate cannot: reconciliation. As we see across the globe today, theology tends to divide people and too often leads to conflict. Our own nation is still highly segregated on Sunday mornings. But a shared meal can unite people at the level of a basic human need. Over the course of my 23 years of ministry, I’ve seen the power of a simple international potluck dinner. As James Beard wrote, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
Meals also can build relationships across enormous socio-economic divides. My friend Kathleen Kline Chesson is the senior pastor of First Christian Church in Falls Church, Va., a congregation that serves 150 homeless people breakfast and lunch every Tuesday and Thursday. One rainy day, Chesson saw a homeless man ”” uninvited and dripping wet ”” shuffle into an elegant reception being held at the church after the funeral of a longtime member. Chesson greeted him, then smiled as three other members of the congregation rushed up to welcome him, making sure that he quickly had a plate of food.
So how are churches evolving today? Many are trying to become the “third place” that Starbucks has staked out in our culture a place for people to go after (1) home and (2) work.