As you’ll see in our fall 2022 video, we encourage you to practice hospitality – to make connections with women in your churches and, together, re-discover community. Here’s a story about hospitality.
The smell of freshly-brewed coffee hugs you the minute you walk into the portable. You can see that someone baked the banana bread from scratch – slices have the crumby heft that only comes from real mashed bananas and the ideal flour to butter ratio. Regulars sit at “their” tables, board games already unpacked. There’s a buzz in the air, punctuated by the regular opening and closing of the portable door.
People come every Thursday to this portable situated right next to Heron Park Baptist Church in Scarborough because it’s The Gathering Place. They’ve come to eat treats and later, a hot homemade lunch. And if it’s their birthday, they know they’ll be celebrated with cake, candles and a “Happy Birthday!”
They’ve come to talk with each other. People like D. 26; a prostituted woman who has just come to faith and bubbles over when someone prays with her. Men like T, one of the local drunks who found family, love and employment through The Gathering Place. Two hundred people have walked through that portable door since the ministry began two years ago.
David and Cathie Phillips are members of the church’s missions committee and key facilitators of The Gathering Place and they believe in hospitality. “We’re called to give attention to people,” says Cathie, “being present with whatever and wherever people are at when they come into your time and space,” she continues. As Canadian Baptist missionaries who have lived in four different countries over four decades, they’ve offered that degree of attention, that hospitality, in many settings.
In Brasilia, Brazil, they gave and received hospitality with Brazilian pastors who taught them about the importance of recognizing people and showed them how birthday parties could be an ideal space and time to share the gospel. Offering attention took a different form in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where they provided school lessons and meals during the day for prison children ages three to 18 who lived in the jail with their mothers.
In Turkey, six floors up in an Istanbul apartment building, they served Friday night meals to refugees, migrants, businesspeople and international students then facilitated pop-up conversations on any number of topics. “When I saw a German billionaire eating beside a African refugee who had no money for the next day’s food – and that they both had questions about God – I began to realize that hospitality could be done anywhere,” remembers David. “Hospitality had created that space of equality and belonging where we could share about Jesus.”
Returning to Canada, David and Cathie found that even among Christians, having a home didn’t necessarily translate into an offering of place or time. To them, it seems that most Canadians now offer hospitality outside of their homes, going out to restaurants to share meals. Inviting acquaintances home for meals and conversation seemed rare. And they both knew the time involved in giving attention to people. “To really listen and get below the surface takes hours.”
Along with members of the missions committee, David and Cathie prayer walked immediate streets around Heron Park with a single prayer request: How could the church truly offer time and attention to the community?
The Gathering Place was born out of that prayer walk, community surveys and conversations with social services already in the neighbourhood. “The Samaritan story means we go out of our way; we take steps out of our comfort zones to offer safety and attention to others,” says David. And so church volunteers went out into the neighbourhood, handing out invitations at bus stops, in shops, in apartment buildings and in care homes.
Cathie and David have gotten to know about 90 of the 200 people who come. Fifteen to 20 take part in Heron Park church activities. There’s an emotional cost to offering such a sustained degree of attention. “Sometimes I lie awake at night,” says Cathie,” wondering what we should be doing when confronted with alcoholism, addiction, physical and mental health issues.” David agrees. “It’s becoming more than simply sharing time and space around the table. Men, like one Bangladeshi refugee, arrive with deep theological questions and needs. We need male volunteers with expertise who can come and listen.”
Even so, Cathie and David show us how to look beyond the depth of needs that will invariably press in on our time and attention as we practice hospitality… anywhere. “At The Gathering Place, we see God at work in such beautiful ways. We see the transformation. Hospitality means we can pause to see the other person for who they are and immediately, when we do that, the Kingdom of God comes near.”