How to Practice Hospitality During a Pandemic

If you’re like me, hospitality doesn’t always come easy. 

Maybe it’s hard for you because you’re introverted. Or because your space doesn’t feel big enough to bring more people in. Or because your kids are young (read: loud and messy and take up lots of your time) or because someone in your household has special needs. Or because you’re single, or a single parent, or because you’re new to town and don’t know many people yet, or because you work third shift.

I hear alllllll of those objections and reasons, and I first want to say: there is nothing but grace for you here. There’s no condemnation.

And there’s also no single right way to “do” hospitality. In fact, I’d say that the misguided notion that there is a single right way is probably the biggest obstacle of them all.

I’ve been feeling God prod me to do more in this area, so I started–as I start all things!– by reading on this subject. Over the last few years, these titles have been super helpful in re-arranging my presuppositions about hospitality (not affiliate links, just wanted you to be able to find them and add them to your cart or wish list ASAP).

But, hey, even if you’ve been thinking about hospitality and DOING hospitality for a while, what do you do when there’s a pandemic afoot? How can you welcome others into your home or around your table when it’s not safe?

First of all, we can remember the point and the purpose of hospitality – it is to make folks feel welcome, right? To feel seen and known, to feel safe. The definition of hospitality is “generous and friendly reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” How can you approach that same end-goal if the usual avenues aren’t available?

Here’s what’s been working for us, at various phases of the shutdown.

In “phase one,” when our state was fully shut down, (aka ”Healthy At Home,” some states called it Shelter In Place) we could only go out for essentials and all gatherings were stopped.

  1. Like many of you, Zoom became our go-to way to gather with friends. I used Zoom to continue hosting Bible study. Instead of women sitting in my living room, we were all on-screen together, but at least we could still read and pray together & encourage each other. I also set up a couple of evenings to gather online with friends for fun – one night we played Bingo and another night we did trivia! We weren’t physically together, but I made a point to set aside time for these women and to welcome them into my life.
An open Bible, notebook, and a coffee cup sit in front of a computer with Zoom open on the screen.
  1. Postcards! I somehow had accumulated a big stash of postcards in a drawer, and I mailed a bunch out each week. The size of a postcard means you’re naturally limited to only a line or two of cheer and encouragement, but what a joy to get something bright and pretty in the mail (that’s not an ad or a bill!) Again – I know it’s not the physical hospitality we are used to pursuing, but it’s a small way to let someone know that they matter to you, which I think is a vital part of being hospitable.
The author's hand holds four brightly colored postcards, pointed into an open mailbox.
  1. Front-yard neighboring. Back in March, when everyone was out taking daily walks, we chalked our sidewalk, painted a front window, and posted a teddy bear in an upstairs window. Lately, when my kids ride their bikes and rollerblades on the dead-end part of our street, I’ve been sitting out on the front porch so I can wave at passing neighbors and chat a bit. I haven’t had any mind-blowing new connections come from this, but I really loved the example that Kristin Schell set in her book (linked above) and am praying that the Lord will use it, at some point.
A front porch with two chairs and a French door.
  1. Calls and texts. I tried to think of folks who I’d normally see once a week or so and make sure to reach out. It was a strange sensation, because we were all using social media more than ever – so it may have felt like we knew what others were going through – but in reality, those one-on-one conversations were more valuable than if I had relied on their public postings on FB or IG.
  1. Caring for the stranger. Like lots of families, we felt like we were using Amazon Prime shipping more than ever before, so for several days I set a small cooler beside our front door with drinks for delivery workers. 

Our current phase (I think we’re in Phase 3 at the moment?) allows some gatherings (up to 10 people, but outdoors is preferable to inside) so hospitality might be an in-person experience again. . . with some adjustments.

  1. I shifted to hosting my Bible study group outside in our side yard. There’s some shade trees and our fire pit out there, so we have plenty of room to spread out in inexpensive plastic chairs (and I have a few of those collapsible camp chairs, too, if a bunch more women suddenly show up). We have all been so happy to see people’s faces that after our official study time, we sit there talking until it’s totally dark. You need to have frank conversation about your expectations if you’re going to do this, about how you’ll space the chairs and whether you’ll require masks, but if the numbers in your area are allowing small gatherings, use your outdoor space to be there for people.
A gravel fire pit area is shown with a pair of plastic Adirondack chairs and a wooden bench seat.
  1. Caring for the stranger. With retail and restaurants open, we are choosing to make our trips short or arrange for pickup/takeout as much as possible, to lighten the contact load that essential workers are bearing. We are also committed to wearing masks every time we go out, and when we are in a checkout line I’ve tried to find at least one opportunity to thank and encourage the worker who’s assisting me. No, this isn’t how we traditionally think of hospitality because we aren’t receiving these folks into our own home – but we are, I hope, giving generously of ourselves and being friendly.
The author is shown wearing a yellow face mask.

I know that we are used to framing our expectations of hospitality around the pillars of “being cozy inside our home” and “feeding the people,” but if we are willing to accept the challenge this pandemic offers us to create new pillars, I think our hospitality muscles will only grow.

Tell me, how are you experiencing hospitality during this strange new season — either by hosting/welcoming, or by being hosted/welcomed? I’d love to hear about it!


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MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9

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