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Open Doors, Open Table

When my father-in-law passed away almost two years ago, we set about the task of clearing out forty-five years worth of stuff from his ranch style home in Ft. Worth, Texas. We knew this day was coming, and we knew it would be sad, but I don’t think any of us expected how hard the loss of that gathering place would affect friends and extended family.

In thinking back, though, I now understand that for many, 4200 Dawn Drive was a place where they were uniquely and unequivocally loved. My mother-in-law was a 4’ 11” tall entertaining mastermind. Growing up as an only child with a small family, I had never seen gatherings such as those my in-laws hosted. Every Christmas Eve, extended family and a few close friends would come to an open house holiday sing-a-long with endless hugging and reconnecting with others. We’d scurry around setting up drink and food stations, and in no time, that home would have sixty to eighty people crowded around a piano singing at the top of their lungs. The evening always came to a close with the lighting of a votive candle on the traditional Happy Birthday Jesus cake, when the kids gathered close to hear Granny tell the Christmas story.

One Christmas Eve, there was a question about a potential guest. Someone had heard that a distant family member might be bringing a date with a criminal background. Some family members were concerned, and their attendance hinged on whether this person would be allowed to attend. As Granny processed aloud, she asked, “What if this is the only time this person will ever experience Christian fellowship?” The person did not attend, but the decision to welcome anyway impacted me mightily.

In his blogpost, Hospitality is War, Chad Ashby writes, “Jesus gives a foretaste of his triumphant victory, sharing the table with the most unlikely of guests. The scribes marvel at his dinner company: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16).

When my in-laws were both gone, I was considering the legacy they left their children and their families. Among our three families, we have hosted countless dinner parties, lunches, showers, cookouts, welcomed exchange students, traveling missionaries, traveling bands, and home churches. The Cornett’s door is open to others regardless of race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, education level, relationship status, or sexual identity. My in-laws practiced a long, consistent, relational faith, and their home, probably their most prized possession, was used to share love, comfort, joy, and fellowship, and I am grateful to have been able to learn their ways.

In her book Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist writes, “Both the church and modern life, together and separately, have wandered away from the table. The church has preferred to live in the mind and the heart and the soul, and almost not at all in fingers and mouths and senses.

If you’re not comfortable with hospitality in your home, consider taking some baby steps. Could you reach out to someone who needs a friend and meet them for coffee or tea? You could reserve the patio or lobby at 2828 and gather up some people for a potluck or cookout, followed by a hike at the back of the property down to the creek. Get involved in welcoming home some of our global workers who are returning to Arkansas for respite or relocation of ministry. Break out of your box and meet someone new at the library storytime, on a bike trail, or the public pool. Ask someone on our refugee support teams how you can reach out to welcome newcomers with hospitality. You might find that you’re standing on holy ground as you open your hands, heart, and doors.

Teresa Cornett's favorite question from others is "what do you think about ... ?!” so she loves to write when she gets a chance to mouth off.

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