Words of Joy – Welcoming the Stranger: On Religious Hospitality

There is evidence that even as we multiply our contacts on Facebook and other internet venues, people in our modern society are generally becoming more socially isolated. One study found that while in 1985 nearly three quarters of people reported having a friend in whom they could confide anything, two decades later only half said they had this kind of support and intimacy from one person. Also, the number of people Americans reported having in their closest circle of friends dropped in those two decades from three to two.

In this time of increasing isolation, people need opportunities to connect with others face to face. This need increases the importance of voluntary communities like congregations—where people can network with others, find and strengthen friendships and share their lives in more depth than is possible through our many technological connections.

To be effective in creating deep human connection in our congregations, we need to be as hospitable as we can, both to those we know and those we have yet to become acquainted with. We need to practice hospitality as a kind of religious discipline. UUA President Peter Morales has written about how we can do this:

First, we can begin by being open and loving with those we already know, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and extending ourselves to others. But we can not and must not stop there. If we stop there we draw a circle that keeps others out, a circle that disconnects us. We must go much further. A true religious hospitality reaches out to those we do not yet know. This can be as simple as greeting those seated near you on Sunday morning and working up the courage to talk to a stranger during coffee hour. It means warmly welcoming those who come looking for a religious home.

Let us work on practicing this religious hospitality among ourselves and toward the stranger who visits us for the first time. In this way we can serve the community by helping to answer the modern human cry for a sense of connectedness, and we can both deepen and grow our liberal faith, extending a warm welcome to all who enter our doors.