Pastor Josh shares about a recent experience he had preparing and serving a hot meal at Hospitality House. He explains how theHeart is providing more than comfort food. This is a simple opportunity to invite people to a great banquet hosted by the King.
My Google Calendar reminded me that it was the third Sunday of the month, which meant theHeart was scheduled to prepare and serve another hot meal for residents and visitors of Hospitality House.
We've been partnering with the Hospitality House for about seven years to cook up some comfort food. The menu has evolved over that time. And now the main dish has settled into a bit of a deconstructed chicken pot pie, with drop biscuits floating on top of a delicious mix of chicken, carrots, potatoes, celery, and onions. Green beans are offered as a side. And the meal is finished off with a choice of chocolate chip or macadamia nut and white chocolate chip cookies.
This week, Terri Miller was kind enough to shop the grocery list for us. (Note: shopping at Wal-Mart on Appalachian State move-in weekend is a bit of a challenge, but she was able to manage.) The total cost for enough ingredients to make an entire meal that can feed hundreds comes out to just about $125.
A Home for All
I arrived at Hospitality House a few minutes before 3:30pm. The door to the kitchen was locked, so I walked around to the front desk to gain access. When I arrived, the staff member on duty was talking to a gentleman who was in need of a bed. He had traveled from Ashe County and was pretty worn out. I could see it in his face. I could hear it in his voice.
Hospitality House, a regional nonprofit transitional living facility and crisis assistance resource center, serves seven rural North Carolina counties—Watauga, Wilkes, Ashe, Avery, Alleghany, Mitchell, and Yancey. Since 1984, the mission of Hospitality House is to rebuild lives and strengthen community. They do this by providing a safe, nurturing, and healthy environment in which individuals and families experiencing homelessness and poverty-related crises are equipped to become self-sufficient and productive.
Unfortunately for this gentlemen, all of the beds in the men's area were full.
The poverty rate in Watauga County has increased from 24.8% to 32.1% since 2010.
The staff member was apologetic and asked the gentleman if he could check back in the morning. "Sure, I guess," he said. Fatigue was etched into the creases of his face. Worry for his well-being was reflected on the face of the staff worker.
She walked me to the kitchen, thanking me profusely for being there. I was incorrect in ever thinking, "It's just a meal."
I walked to the back door and opened it for the other volunteers—Charles and Susan Stafford, and their son Noah, and Adele Byrd and her son Noah. This group, along with Joey and Hannah Arnett, have been faithfully representing theHeart at Hospitality House for years. In fact, Noah Byrd has spent nearly half of his 16 years of life serving meals with his mom.
Over time, each volunteer has settled into specific jobs to help prepare the meal. Adele and Susan make the drop biscuits. Charles and Noah Stafford cut up the rotisserie chickens and chop the vegetables. Noah Byrd takes great pride in baking the cookies to perfection.
The Arnetts recently took a step back after becoming first-time parents. So I've inherited the role of head cook. I'm responsible for assembling the chicken pot pie and getting it into the oven.
And every time I serve at Hospitality House, it reminds me of making a meal with family. Posts, pans, and conversation reverberate throughout the kitchen. Animated story-telling. Joyful laughter. These are the special ingredients that are dashed, sprinkled, and mixed into every meal we make together.
All Are Welcome
The clock works its hands towards 5:30pm and we move the food to the serving station. People coming in and out of the kitchen comment on how good it smells. I'm hoping nobody gets too close to me as I sweat over the hot stove.
We roll open the window and people are lined up with their plates in hand. Young and old. Men and women. Kids. Some new faces. Many familiar.
As each person works through the line some of them share about his or her day. A couple talk candidly about their struggles. One mom in particular shares with us how her grown daughter is missing and she fears the worst. Her daughter is addicted to meth and has had six children adopted out because of her dependance on drugs.
Susan steps out of line and prays with her—one mom speaking God's love over another. No solutions to offer, only words of encouragement and love.
Just about everyone in line says, "thank you, God bless."
Richard, a long-time resident who also works at Hospitality House, comes in after having just mowed the lawn. He has a striking resemblance to a beet-red and sweaty Santa Clause. "You guys are the best," he says with a smile. "I just can't thank you enough for all that you do."
I was about to brush off Richard's appreciation, but then I was reminded of what Jason invited us to do in his sermon that morning. As he was teaching on the Parable of the Great Banquet, he said, "Invite someone over to dinner who can't possibly repay you."
"But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Since they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”—Luke 14-13-14
Hospitality House and its kitchen are an extension of my home. The Staffords, Arnetts, and Byrds are a part of my church family. And every third Sunday, an invitation goes out to those who cannot repay us to join us for a great banquet. As a servant of God, I feel humbled to request their presence on behalf of the King.
Telling our stories is one of the most powerful ways we can illustrate how God is real and active in our lives. Sharing them can lead to real and meaningful connections with one another. At theHeart, we want to be known for the stories we share with one another. By doing so, we can grow closer as a church family. And we can inspire each other to confidently live a life that is uniquely focused on demonstrating Christ's Love. Do you love telling stories through written word, video, photography, or artwork?
Would you consider joining a network of contributors to theHeart Blog? If you're interested in learning more, contact Pastor Josh: firstname.lastname@example.org.