When I googled “hospitality,” one definition that came up described it as “treating guests and strangers in a warm, generous and friendly way.” This suggests welcoming others unconditionally, helping them to feel comfortable and welcomed. Of course there are reasonable limits. You would not want to allow a guest or stranger to treat you abusively or behave in a way that makes other guests feel unwelcome. But, aside from that, hospitality implies tremendous latitude.
I experienced this the first Wednesday we began offering morning coffee to homeless folks lined up outside of a local shelter. We were not far into it, when I was stunned to watch some individuals fill their small foam cups halfway or more with sugar. My immediate knee-jerk reaction was to want to blurt: “Do you really need all that? Is that a good idea?” But I bit my tongue. This is a ministry of hospitality, I told myself, and our guests should take their coffee however they like it. Quickly I moved from a place of judgement to getting a kick out of the multitude of ways people prepare their coffee.
For many (myself included), morning coffee is a soothing ritual, not just in terms of choices about cream and sugar but also in terms of techniques and ways to mix this wonderful beverage. Some put the condiments in first, then the coffee, while others do the opposite. Options for mixing include using anywhere from one to five stir sticks, or instead might involve a technique of pouring the concoction back and forth from one cup to another until just the right consistency is achieved.
Hospitality ought to include allowing people to prepare their coffee just the way they like it, even if a half cup of sugar is not my cup of tea, so to speak. Hospitality involves creating a safe, welcoming space where people can be who they are. Where they can enjoy a cup of coffee just how they would make it at home, if only they had one.
Every Wednesday morning, there is coffee (approximately 450 cups of it!). There is conversation. There is prayer. This is a ministry of hospitality. But it is also a ministry of presence — and it is each person’s presence that truly makes a difference.
“My strength comes with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.”
— Dorothy Day, Christian activist