A story about Blanche

Hospitality is not only the act of receiving others into our care, but it is about the act of being a good guest that depends on the reception of others.

We all have our stories of when we were hosting friends or a gathering and something went wrong such as the oven broke just before the turkey was to go in or the electricity goes out. Or we have stories of providing hospitality and all went well.

I learned hospitality from my mother and the farmers’ wives of Back Presque Isle Road. When someone came to your home, no matter what time of day, you always offered coffee or Red Rose Tea, which at that time was a favorite brand from Canada and was offered only to guests. There were always cookies in the cookie jar. Usually they were molasses cookies because they “kept well” and if they got crunchy and hard you could put a slice of white “wonder” bread in the jar and the cookies would be soft again. These were the hospitality rituals if you lived in rural Northern Maine. Woe be to the person who did not follow the rules of hospitality for people entering your home.

We have learned how to be good hosts. What we may not have learned is how to be good guest.  The Missional Practice of Hospitality is not just providing hospitality but learning to receive hospitality also. (Luke 10: 5 -8)

Blanche, or Blanchie,  as I called her, was a lovely, recently widowed woman who lived less than a block from the church when I arrived as their pastor.  Harry had died less than two years prior. Blanche was retired from Syracuse China, went once a week to have her hair done, never missed a church event, went to brunch with the other widows after church and secretly smoked.

About eight years after I arrived we all noticed a change in Blanche. She still came to church but she was not as “put together” as she had been. She would often be seen wandering around the neighborhood streets with inadequate clothes for the season. She came several times to the Food Pantry looking for tuna for “her cats”. The ladies suspected the tuna was for herself.

Finally, the ladies asked me to call on Blanche. I had been to her home several years before but whenever I suggested I stop by in the following years, she would indicate that it was not necessary and I should spend my time with  “those poor shut in old ladies”.

I walked to her house, a small bungalow on an urban Syracuse street. She greeted me at the door and graciously welcomed me into her tiny living room. I was shocked. The ashtray was heaping over onto the table with ashes. The two or three cats were coming in and out of an open window on the porch. The carpet was sticky and the shelves were layers of dust. The place smelled. Things had changed, drastically changed.

She invited me to sit on the chair opposite the couch where she was sitting. She shut off the TV and hurried into the kitchen for a diet coke and a plate of Oreos.  This was a time that I needed to be a gracious guest. She was offering me all that she had. I put on a smile and accepted. All the time I was judging, assessing, thinking about what was sticky under my feet.  I held a brief conversation with her but didn’t listen to her. I didn’t take the time with her that I should have as a guest in her house. Blanche and my journeys were connected, we traveled the path together for a while. I regret that little moment of not accepting her hospitality with the heart of disciple of Jesus Christ. I learned a lot from that crazy lady.