In his rule for monasteries, St. Benedict gives the instruction: “All guests who present themselves are to be received as Christ.”
Benedictines take St. Benedict’s words very seriously, and strive to embrace all who come to our monastery with reverence and care. What does that look like, and how can others do the same? Our receptionists greet guests with warmth and joy. Each of us can try to put on the manner of a “receptionist” when we meet and greet others.
Our sisters, especially Sister Jeannine Neavitt and Sister Amelia Nowatzke — our primary hospitality givers for many years — try to anticipate our guests’ needs and welcome them with kindness.
“We learn from those who come; they keep us focused outward and enable us to share our lives with others,” Sister Jeannine said. “They challenge us to be who we say we are. People are very affirming and grateful.”
We should try to remember that those we meet are a gift, not an interruption.
Guests who return often ask for Sister Amelia, “the sister with the smile.” A smile alone goes a long way in making a person feel special. Just as we would be attentive to the needs of a guest in our homes and make sure that everything is just right, we can offer a bit of this welcome in every encounter by truly listening and trying to address the needs of the person standing in front of us.
Many guests come to our Sophia Center for programs, retreats, personal renewal and the quiet space for reflection, spiritual direction and prayer. They may come from stressful work places or painful situations, and they find compassion and acceptance from the Sophia staff. Everyone we meet desires to feel comfortable and at peace. They can sense whether we are “safe,” whether they can lay aside their concerns and feel quieted.
Three long-time visitors to Sophia are Craig Palmer, Bill Calhoun, and Jim Gordon, pastors who have been coming annually for 20 years for quiet time, spiritual direction, and prayer.
“We began getting together 30 years ago when we were pastors in the Des Moines area,” said Palmer, who now lives in Ames, Iowa. “We met monthly for several hours and it was like group spiritual direction.”
Whenever we can encourage the prayer and spiritual life of others, we help them to love God more and to spread that love. One form our hospitality might take is to organize quiet times when we share our faith and prayer with others.
Calhoun, who lives in Denver, is retired, but still does part-time preaching and pastoral care. He said he has hungered for silence his whole life.
“I like the quiet here and not having a to-do list,” he said. “I’ve crafted how I want to live the rest of my life — building relationships with Muslims, Jews, and other neighboring congregations.”
When we give others a sense of acceptance, they are more open to others and ready to extend the hospitality they’ve experienced.
Gordon, who lives in Kansas City, comes more often and has gotten to know the sisters through his frequent visits. “I especially appreciate the spirituality of the women here,” he said.
We get to know the heart of God by getting to know people of faith. Each time we meet someone, they should be able to see that there is something special in our welcome. As we try to see God in them, they should be seeing God in us. All people of faith should keep in mind that guests broaden our vision and keep us focused on the God who comes to our door.
We are blessed by their presence.