It takes a village to be an adult
It’s a thought I’ve been working on for a few years now. I workshopped it with Becky as we drove up to Derbyshire. It is the inspiration behind my Pass the Piece contribution to Bethany. It was the driving motivation behind going to Rachel Redeemed’s seminar on hospitality at Hutchmoot UK.
Apparently, I’m not the only one thinking about villages either. The ringleader of Hutchmoot UK (HMUK), Mark Meynell, used “village” as his word for describing people coming together as a community. (It probably says something that we both dislike “collective” because of the Borg – no assimilation here, thanks.)
The romantic ideal of a village is one where everyone comes together; it doesn’t matter if you’re the lord of the manor or the local fool. The key bit is you’re all in it together. In so many ways, HMUK 2023 lived up to this ideal. We ate three times a day, argued over obscure theology in the bar, enjoyed art and music, heard from brilliant minds on a range of topics, AND we did it all together! Plus, whenever there was downtime everyone naturally congregated outside around the picnic benches with a mug of tea or coffee, which was unlimited! What a village to be part of!
When it came to leaving Hutchmoot this year, it didn’t really feel like leaving. Thanks to smartphones and social media I could take this village everywhere with me. I never really leave because they’re never really gone. But the reality is that those connections are not always the strongest connections. We share our work, thoughts on society, and plan get-togethers, but they aren’t the people I rely on for my day-to-day.
But leaving is where our story really begins
It is around 6.45pm on Sunday 21 May 2023. Tamar and I have ordered Nando’s takeaway for dinner. We’d said goodbye earlier but she’d left her trainers in my car. So here we are, extending HMUK over Portuguese chicken. And that’s when it hits her…
…Tamar never picked up her passport.
All we can do is try to phone the conference centre and the Hutchmoot team. Mark and Jo spring into action, also trying and failing to get hold of the conference centre. And so the road trip planning begins – can we do Oxfordshire to Derbyshire and back in a day?
You see, Tamar needs to fly home the next day so that passport matters! After chicken, she walks back to her BnB and I have a catch-up with my parents. As I’m filling them in on the last few days, Tamar rings and confirms the worst – no passport!
It’s now Monday, 9am. We’re almost past Oxford as Tamar’s phone rings. It’s the conference centre and they have the passport! A few minutes later and they agree to overnight the passport to Tamar. She’s delayed her flight and is staying at ours for two nights. Is this what success feels like?
We spend the rest of the day safe in the knowledge that the passport will arrive by midday Tuesday. There are even celebratory scones.
So Tamar is now staying with us for two nights. Fortunately, we have some gluten-free meals planned for the week. Mr FC’s famous fish curry it is! The rest of the evening feels weird though, as Tamar heads to bed early and I feel conscious of how much noise I’m making.
Tuesday. Fortunately, my granola is wheat-free and for lunch, I pull together an easy dahl (topped with pine nuts I’m sure my Pakistani friends would disapprove of). But the main event of the day never comes… the passport does not arrive!
Now you are probably wondering where all my talk of a village comes into this. Well, at this point our respective villages are hard at work in terms of support. Huge shout out to our mutual UK Moot village holding us up in prayer and messages especially. Not to mention Mark, Jo and a friend of a friend of Tamar’s all trying to contact the centre.
But it was when we realised the passport was still in Derbyshire that I saw the power of community – a metaphorical village.
There was panic but then suddenly we had a solution. A three-person chain stretching from Derbyshire to Oxfordshire. By 6.20pm, as Mr FC walked through the door, the passport was back with Tamar.
A quick note to say thank you to Simon, David, and Mr FC for using their valuable time to help get the passport to Tamar. We owe you!
The village beautiful
To see someone’s community, village or whatever word you use for the people around you, spring to life is a thing of beauty. But it is more than that. Beauty applies to visual art and the combination of shapes and colours. Or to the sounds crafted by a poet in such a way that they conjure up specific feelings.
So, yes, seeing people come together to lift up another person in their weakness is beautiful because it conjures certain feelings. But it is also beautiful on another level – it shows us something about how God intended us to live.
God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone…”Genesis 2
The reason the concept of a village working together, let alone seeing it in the flesh, is beautiful is that it gives us a glimpse of life pre-Fall. A tiny window into a world where supporting and caring for one another is natural.
I’m beyond grateful to have witnessed this coming together. But in the midst of it all, I was also being asked a poignant question:
What happens when you have to support someone with no warning or forethought?
I had gone to Rachel Redeemed’s seminar on hospitality. She asked us to think of King Charles just rocking up for a cuppa; how would that change our behaviour? She then dropped the bomb that the King was already in the room. Not King Charles but King Jesus. When the King of the known and unknown universe is in your house, it should probably make a difference in how you act.
So that’s the concept at least. When it comes to hospitality, the King of Kings is our permanent guest. Therefore hospitality should be an ordinary and continuous part of a Christian household and pattern of life. But what happens when you have an unexpected guest?
I was lucky to have extra time with Tamar as we normally live thousands of miles apart. But I can’t deny that there was an inconvenience to it too. Having been away for five days, I was looking forward to time with Mr FC. Apart from an hour before church, we found ourselves waiting till Tuesday evening to reconnect – and only then because Tamar very kindly went out for dinner with another friend. And then there is having a small house with thin walls – you really do become aware of every noise you make when there is a guest sleeping above you. Or being a planner by nature and suddenly find that all your plans are disrupted and changed – going with the flow is one thing but the impact this has when you will inevitably have to catch up with the jobs you weren’t able to do or didn’t get to is like diving into a pool but somehow ending up doing a belly flop instead.
But, most of all, it was my emotional response and sense of responsibility or purpose that has taken the biggest hammering. Every time that I have had guests previously, they had been there to see and hang out with me. So automatically these were the expectations and the role I assumed, without even realising it! But that wasn’t the case – instead, I was providing a friend with bed and board in her time of need and that was it. This wasn’t a prearranged visit with fun day trips or wine time in the evening.
It was hospitality at its most basic; I was not ready for it!
I should probably be grateful that Tamar is a well-experienced traveller and knows Oxford well. That, combined with other friends in Oxford and her kindness, meant Mr FC and I had the beautiful gift of Tuesday evening together. Yet it also meant I wasn’t needed in the way I expected to be. I mean, this was my chance, to be the entertainer and hostess that I had seen modelled by my family, by society, and by church to a degree. But all that was required of me was to provide a person in need with a place to sleep, food, and a place to work. And to be honest, Tamar could have found all of those elsewhere if she had to. So l found myself in a weird in-between where I was not the host I had been raised to be and there were no defined rules for how this worked. Talk about uncomfortable!
The reality of hospitality
So what did I learn from this unexpected adventure? That leaning on people isn’t always a choice but sometimes it is a necessity. Even more so, there are times when you have to be the one who leans, not the one who can be leaned on. Apparently, this was a lot of what Tamar had been thinking through after Doug McKelvey’s seminar ‘On Weakness’. But my lesson was different; what does hospitality look like when it is put on you, rather than planned entertainment? And will you step up when the theory becomes reality?
The reality is uncomfortable. I felt rude going to work on Tuesday, even though it was only in the office at the end of the garden. I panicked at lunch about whether there was any gluten-free food to serve. We didn’t have any clean towels so Tamar had to use our beach towel. I felt unprepared and embarrassed.
The reality is Tamar had a place to stay during a stressful period without having to pay another cost. There were continuous cups of tea, no travel to find somewhere to work from, and an address for FedEx. This is the reality that matters.
Hospitality isn’t about being the host with the most. It’s not about planning the perfect itinerary or always having the guest bed made up. It is about being there for people, whether they know it or not.
So many other threads are tumbling out of this now. I’m excited to see how it impacts my Pass the Piece for Bethany. I’m wondering where we can see hospitality as “showing up for people” in the Bible. Or what it looks like to stop focusing on impressing people, ditching the stress, and offering what you can (even if it’s tea and toast or a mattress on the floor).
Then there are threads I don’t want to pull on. The desire to buy more towels to make sure I never have to offer a beach towel to a guest again. Or wondering if I should buy gluten-free pasta “just in case”. Or the fact that I’ve heard so many hospitality talks that encourage you to drop everything to bake a cake or a loaf of bread when a guest appears. Those threads need dissecting and then ditching in my honest opinion.
But for now, the challenge is to just be open but realistic. Mr FC and I were asked to host a friend’s sister that same week but said no because we knew we needed time to reconnect. Under different circumstances, we would probably have said yes. It might not mean we roll out the red carpet for every guest but if it’s empty, our “spare room” (a mattress on the floor of my office) will hopefully be open. I’m learning slowly that Jesus doesn’t expect my “middle-class English” version of good hospitality. He just wants my hands to be open, my heart to be willing, and my soul to be generous.