This month, during our theme of Giving Praise, I’m going to share some words from my colleague, the Rev. Jordinn Nelson Long. She posted this essay about her experience of hospitality in her congregation, and about how profound and important it is to our shared values as Unitarian Universalists and our community commitment to welcoming people and supporting each other in our care.
In gratitude and faith,
by Rev. Jordinn Nelson Long, Fairhaven, MA
I came in from the cold drizzle in a week of not feeling particularly well, and entered the cheery brightness of our dining hall where some people were milling about and a few greeted me, but mostly I was left to my own devices. I chose a seat, and then gazed across the room at the waiting array of snacks. And a thing about my church is that where snacks are concerned, there is always a waiting array, always arranged beautifully, always accompanied by coffee and decaf and hot water and milk and a gorgeous selection of teas.
It always seems basic and effortless, a graceful, beautiful service that leaves open the question of whether these things are frosting for the other, more core experiences of church, or if they are themselves the essential pieces, a blessing without which our being together would fail.
Looking over at the snack table, shaking the water droplets off my shoulders, surrounded by warm lights and wanton beauty (such are our spaces- does it matter?), I felt a physical weight lift from my body. There was a heaviness I hadn’t realized I was carrying, and as it dissipated I melted gratefully into my chair, and thought, Yes. I looked at the people and at the chairs and at the cheery glow, and I looked at the snacks, arranged not by elves, but by the unseen hands of love in the name of faith, and I was suddenly sure.
THIS thing, the preparing room, the making ready to greet one another, the transformation of what might have been an unlit and cold place into a cheery gathering place, the tangible “welcome, for we hoped that you would come, and we have made a place for you”–THIS is a thing that matters. Sometimes, in fact, it might be THE thing that matters, the yes or no, the on/off switch without which we cannot access our full humanity, let alone anyone else’s.
And we know this, or we could, at every moment. Not for nothing have we adopted the flaming chalice as our symbol. We forget, maybe, that a flaming chalice was not a thing before it was made to be one, because before that, it was two. A flame, literal light and warmth and also symbol of determination, justice, carrying forward. And a chalice: it’s a cup. A chalice is just a cup, and if a cup has any particular meaning, it’s because this is how we offer to one another, and particularly to those who have just arrived, our tangible welcome. Here you are; we see and celebrate you with something to drink.
We see and celebrate each other by turning on the lights, making a space warm, thinking about needs and making a welcome. We still, as a holy and human gesture, offer one another something to drink. What gratitude for the simplicity of what we can meaningfully do for one another. What gracious humanity lives just behind our coffee service.
Last night I was handed not just coffee, but a microphone- “And here’s Reverend Jordinn- she always has something good to say.” I laughed and said “no pressure”–and then I told them what I saw there, among them, that evening. I told them what we did, together, before a word was ever spoken. I told them that our humanity in welcoming one another well matters–matters now, matters much, matters more, even when night comes early and rain falls hard and the world feels like too much to take.
I am pretty sure it does.