The Heart of Hospitality

How I learned it has absolutely nothing to do with having a home worthy of Southern Living.

My second Sunday in Charlottesville, Virginia, I wound up at Christ Church, where I knew exactly two people. One of them was my mother, and what single woman wants to get stuck at coffee hour eating donut holes with her mom?

Few situations make me as uncomfortable as being a newcomer in a church. Everyone else knows when to stand and sit, and everyone else has someone to talk to during coffee hour. In contrast, I just stand there awkwardly, my inner introvert yelling at me to go home and curl up with a novel.

After the service ended that morning, I managed to silence my introvert long enough to introduce myself to a couple sitting in the pew behind me. I complimented the wife's shoes, the husband asked if I'd enjoyed the sermon, and then they said, "If you don't have plans for New Year's Eve, please come to our party."

This unexpected invitation struck me as exceptional, even though I was back in the friendly South. In the coming weeks, though, I came to see that in the Charlottesville Christian community, the opening of one's home seems to be the norm. To wit, the experience of my friend Suzanne: Suzanne found herself with a gap between leases, and within two days she received three offers of spare bedrooms from fellow church members.

Or consider my friends the Hanovers: So often do they have guests for dinner that when they are guestless, eight-year-old Julianne asks, "Mommy, why is no one in the guest chair tonight?"

Or my favorite example of Charlottesville hospitality: One evening, I attended a training session for lay leaders in my church. There were maybe nine of us at the meeting, and only two were this side of 50—me, and a tall blond man with a Georgia accent and the improbable name of Griff Gatewood. At the end of the meeting, Griff came up to me and said, "Do you have community here with people your own age?" And then he invited me to have homemade pizza with him and some friends that night. (The true-confession slice of this vignette is that the tall blond man is now my boyfriend. But that didn't happen for months and months, so I stand by my vignette as an example of hospitality, not flirtation.)

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