A Winter's Welcome

            My oldest son, Sam and I took a New England college tour last week. We visited three colleges: University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts; and Bryant University in Rhode Island.

            Sam and I have already visited a few colleges and we’re getting the hang of it. I could visit colleges every day. Few places rival the beauty found on a college or university campus. The food is way better than when I was a college student in the dark ages. There is no mystery meat served these days. Fares featuring sushi, Mexican, Korean, and vegan are all available for today’s students. High-quality coffee can be found at every corner, including the library, of all places. Librarians are way different then when I was checking out books. If I walked into my college libraries holding a cup of coffee, I would have been shot dead before taking two steps. Sam and I were dazzled on all three campuses we visited.

            But one school rose to the top of Sam’s list: Gordon College. Gordon is a small, Christian liberal arts college located on Boston’s north shore. The campus is lovely, especially in a snowstorm as it was when we visited. The food and coffee were both excellent. The course offerings look strong and the faculty seems quite exceptional. The buildings sit amid more than 300 acres of land. But it was the kind welcome of a Gordon employee that made the lasting and favorable impression.

            Sam and I had driven from Vermont that morning. Snow blanketed the highways once we entered New Hampshire and Massachusetts. We arrived on time for our appointment but the campus was shutting down because of the storm. The Admissions Office gave us coupons for the café in the library. We scurried over and grabbed lunch. A young man who worked in the café invited us to join him at his table—a potential student and his Dad. We had little to offer him besides a lunch time diversion, but this guy was kind to us, attentive to our lives and stories and enthusiastic about Gordon College. As we headed home on Saturday, I wasn’t particularly surprised to hear Sam say, “I liked Gordon a lot.” The wintery welcome we received last Friday made Gordon seem like a wonderland.

            According to Majorie Thompson, author of Soul Feast: The Invitation to the Spiritual Life, hospitality can be boiled down to the following: “Hospitality means receiving the other, from the heart, into my own dwelling place. It entails providing for the need, comfort, and delight of the other with all the openness, respect, freedom, tenderness, and joy that love itself embodies.” Sam and I felt that on the snowy walkways and inside the warm buildings of Gordon.

            What is the essence of hospitality for you? When have you found it? How do you offer it, and where? What do you think the most important ingredients of hospitality are? Sit with those questions over a cup of tea or coffee. How can you offer hospitality here at Thompson Church?

            An ancient Rabbi once asked his students how they could tell when the night had ended and the day was on its way back. “Could it be,” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the Rabbi. “Could it be,” asked another, “when you look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” Again, the Rabbi shook his head and said, “No.” His pupils demanded, “Well, then what is it?” The wise old teacher answered, “It is when you look on the face of any person and can see . . . your brother or sister. Because if you cannot do this, then no matter what time it is, it is still night.”