Today the seminarian had the opportunity to preach for a vacationing pastor at a church about an hour away from home. He was preaching for both morning and evening services: 11 am and 6 pm. This presents a small problem: what to do during those hours? It's a little far to come home and go back. But we didn't know anyone at the church.
There was some vague talk of hanging out at the home of one of the church members. It involved lunch, and swimming. I wasn't too thrilled about this; the kids were petrified at the prospect. But, we packed up swimming things, a change of clothing, some books and games, a box of truffles for a hostess gift, and the address of the local Barnes and Noble, just in case.
The service went well and everyone in the tiny congregation was friendly. But the lunch/swim/hangout plan was not working out. Then I noticed a woman talking rather excitedly to the seminarian and heard her say, "you just come on. We'll make it work!" The kids and I were introduced to her; she commented that she had no idea what she was going to feed us but to come on. Next thing I knew we were in the car following the family (husband, wife, college-student son) home.
I gave the kids a pep talk: be polite, eat what they offer, don't roll your eyes at me to signal you're ready to go, remember it's just a few hours....
We arrived and were immediately offered lemonade and a job to do for lunch prep. We were enveloped in warmth and hospitality. The family was very comfortable. So were we (mostly).
And this is where the story of the loaves and fishes comes in.
Our hostess happened to find a big plate of leftover pork chops in the fridge. She also found some shrimp which she sauteed with zucchini and tossed with herbs, spices, and angel hair pasta. She handed me a knife and some tomatoes and cukes for a salad. Another couple from the church came in - she must have called them while on the way home - with two big containers of spaghetti and meatballs. They had been destined for the church's monthly service at a retirement home which had, coincidentally, been canceled at the last minute. A packaged angel food cake was pulled out of the freezer. Berries were washed, and leftover pudding was discovered. I sent my girl out to the car to bring out the hostess gift to add to the dessert. Just as the food was about to be ready, another couple trooped in with chips, salsa, and pies.
Within minutes we were sitting down to a feast. An impromptu, potluck feast.
There were no kids except mine, which is always difficult. My kids are pretty comfortable around adults, but adult talk can get pretty boring. But the conversations were great. We talked about someone's visit to Chincoteague Island to see the wild ponies. About a serviceman's experiences using C4 to heat up c-rations. There was an Eagle Scout at the table so of course we talked Scouts. People asked us about Oregon.
During the lull between lunch and dessert a huge thunderstorm kicked up. We went out to the huge covered porch and I sat in a swing watching the storm and talking classical education with a young, new teacher while my girl drowsed in my lap. The men and boy were talking about homemade blow guns.
Then we went in and sat back down with pie, trifle, and hot coffee. The truffles were sent back home with me because "the kids will need them in the car." I also left with a bag of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers that one of the guests brought from his garden.
Then we went back to church. After the service there were hugs all around, and thanks, and it felt like we were all good friends.
That is what real hospitality looks like: someone ready to invite people into her home at a moment's notice, confident that she can provide something for them. When I told her that if I had attempted the same thing we'd all be eating peanut butter sandwiches on hot dog buns, she laughed and said that could have been what she had today. Somehow I doubt that.
It was a wonderful day.