“You’re welcome to come around anytime and put your feet under our table,” Keith and Merle told us, as they introduced themselves.
For us, full-time ministry was opening up, and for them retirement was just beginning after farming further inland. Our new home was a coastal port city which sheltered behind a narrow windswept peninsula from the fierce westerlies that sailors had christened the “Roaring Forties.”
We all had to make friends with those winds.
After a life of open spaces with crops and livestock, Keith wryly observed that they were now surrounded by fish on three sides. They must both have felt so cramped by contrast in their new, simple abode, but their hearts and their home were open to anyone – even to young greenhorn pastors like me.
Taking up their offer added a new dimension of hospitality to my sermon preparation, as we talked and laughed and prayed together about life and faith and family. It became so easy to kill an hour or two, just by dropping on Keith and Merle for five minutes!
Keith’s gammy leg did not allow him to easily use the more comfortable armchairs in their lounge room, so we usually sat around the kitchen table, where the oven added its own olfactory aura to our proceedings. I can still smell the roasts succumbing to Merle’s skills, as well as the cakes, pies, slices and other delicious concoctions that all awaited their own martyrdom in the cause of our well-being.
A kitchen is every family’s engine room, and I found similar welcomes in so many homes. Being invited into that room was to get a clearer feel for each family’s level of mutual respect, not to mention their memories, their hurts and their hopes. These are the elements that make hospitality such an important but sadly-neglected ministry, for it was here that we could pray together over everyday issues.
Being in the kitchen was as important for my sermon preparation as being my study – regardless of how well its walls were lined with books. It enabled my messages to be grounded in people’s lives as well as in my training and my private reflections, as Sunday by Sunday our whole congregation explored the light that God’s word could throw on the challenges and opportunities that we had discussed around the table.
Kitchens played another vital but unexpected role in that first ministry.
Ron was a difficult character because he was so well-balanced: with a chip on each shoulder. He was recovering from heart surgery and he felt useless because he’d also had to leave his farm. My first couple of conversations were a struggle, because he was so bitter about being put down all his life, and the doctor had given him only eighteen months to live.
Then one day, when he showed me his collection of self-recorded cassette tapes, I asked if he would like to record our worship services and give them to people who weren’t able to attend. “You can phone them about when to come around, and that will be all there is to it,” I assured him.
At first he was suspicious, but he decided to give it a go, so long as he could record from the vestry where he would be unseen by all the people who picked on him.
We bought him a box of blank tapes and Ron went quietly to work. Nobody knew about him for a while; but then word got out about how much people appreciated being able to hear the familiar songs and worship. “I felt shut in, but Ron has helped me to stop feeling shut out,” one old lady chirped.
For Ron, it was a new lease on life, and his face developed new lines from smiling instead of complaining. Then one day he told me how he was no longer just dropping tapes in at the door...
“Now it takes a lot longer, because people invite me into the kitchen. I listen to the tape with them, and when we come to communion time, we ask God to bless our cake or our cookies, and our tea or our coffee, and we have communion along with everyone else!”
It was great to see Ron outlive his doctor’s prediction – and to stand straighter without his shoulders sagging under the weight of the chips...
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