What Is Hospitality?

As we begin the new year at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat, we are welcoming guests after a quiet holiday, continuing upgrades on our buildings and amenities, and planning an exciting season of programming. All of this flows from our mission of hospitality. Last year I often remarked to staff and others that we could learn about hospitality from ducks: “their feet are working hard to propel them forward while appearing to glide easily across the water.” Hospitality is demanding and sometimes relentless work. It calls for flexibility and timely responsiveness to shifting human needs. It calls for presence and calmness when requests come from multiple directions all at once—for instance, on a weekend when six groups are coming and going, the electricity goes out, the bus forgets to pick up people for an event, the grocery order is late, and the boxelder bugs swarm like a plague. In other words, hospitality calls us to remain placid as we care for people, buildings, land, and animals.

Of course, this simple analogy breaks down quickly (e.g., ducks don’t actually paddle to stay afloat, and their bodies uniquely keep them buoyant), which presses us to reflect more deeply on the questions, What is hospitality? What isn’t hospitality? How can we practice hospitality in many dimensions of our lives? What can we learn about hospitality from the mission of retreat centers? So, over the next few months, Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center staff will share their reflections on this topic. We invite you to join our conversation, posing your own questions and ideas about hospitality in the comments section below or through an email.

For me (a former professor and trained theologian), hospitality begins with God. God receives us into a space not our own, into connection with God. The Spirit unites us to God in and through Christ so that we dwell with God. We are attached to God, because God in Jesus Christ has welcomed us so widely. We receive this welcome with gratitude to God and in fellowship and solidarity with each other.

While this hospitality is first and foremost a gift (something we receive rather than earn), it does not result in passivity or insularity. Being welcomed by God so freely, so fully, so unexpectedly, and so unconditionally shapes us into a welcoming people. Having been embraced by God, we open ourselves to one another. With open hearts and open homes. And not merely open to those with whom we have natural affinity. Our communities and churches are not meant to be homogenous groups consisting of those who look like us, talk like us, think like us, or vote like us. Rather genuinely hospitable communities are ones in which strangers become guests so that guests might become friends.

Practicing hospitality, as a matter of the heart, means welcoming and receiving others with openness, warmth, and attentive care. It is always invitational, never intrusive, and therefore patient. Hospitality is a posture, an orientation to all life. It requires intentional pauses and mindful reflection. At Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center, our work of hospitality will fall short if we don’t take time to ask things like, How can this building invite people to rest, be still, collaborate, or reconnect with each other? How does the land (prairie, woods, and marsh) beckon people home to God, to themselves, to their vocations? How can we facilitate retreats and resource leaders so that guests are renewed, healed, and empowered in this place? 

Given the expansiveness of God’s welcome, hospitality pays particular attention to those who have been excluded from community, who have experienced religious trauma, and whose very identities have been contested by their families and neighbors. The faithfulness of our hospitality will always be measured – in no small part – by our welcome and advocacy for these. Of course, in this regard (and all the others), our welcome falls short of God’s wild and wide welcome. Hospitality then involves remorse, repentance, and repair as well as trust that God still welcomes us in all our shortcomings. 

How do you think about hospitality? How do you practice it? What does it require of you (and all of us)? Let us know. We look forward to the dialogue.  



  1. Mary Knutaon says:

    Hospitality means invitations to have tea together.
    Since I’m from a Danish background my parents invited new
    people at church home for lunch.
    Hospitality also means engaging in conversations at the
    grocery store, or the library, etc. When I’m at the check out
    at Kowalski’s I ask how they are doing. On the way to the
    car I ask my helper, what he/or she does when not working
    at Kowalski’s. It’s revealing to hear from one young man
    that he is a grad student at Hamline and majoring in writing.
    He also writes poetry…wow. Recently he was challenging
    himself and started writing Haiku poems.

  2. Karen Johnson says:

    Thankyou for the opportunity for all to learn/exercise/practice/promote hospitality, understanding its key piece in ministry of Jesus. I encourage all to read Advent entry, 12.12.23, “Get Curious”, Rev Dr. Theresa Latini, curiosity “keeps our hearts and minds open to the unanticipated or even unimaginable.” I shared this in a recent family gathering. Again, Thankyou!

  3. Charlene Decker says:

    Hospitality for me begins with Gods grace to me. Yet in my own home it begins with preparation. How is my home pleasing to you when you walk through the door, whether you are staying for a few hours or a week?

    For an evening I would hope in my preparation of cleaning and preparing a meal that our gathering is fun and bringing our relationship(s) closer together. I want you to know I care (about you, about your concerns, about your needs and about our time together).

    For an extended time period, I think about your personal space (room and bathroom). I want it to be the best I can offer you. When overnight guests come, I rearrange things to give you as much private, clean, pleasing to the eye space as possible. This will insure your comfort and ability to relax and rest.

    One last thing I find my own hospitality can require is my own mind set. To ensure my guests comfort and peace I need to set aside my own issues in life, such as disturbing personal concerns or my own mental or emotional pain to give my guests the best visit into my home. I don’t want my hospitality tainted by issues that could affect their stay. This takes a determined decision. How can I do this reverts back to my first statement. Hospitality begins with Gods grace to me.

  4. Theresa Latini says:

    Thanks much for sharing your responses to this first blog in our new series! I’m particularly struck by the thoughtfulness you all shared about the concrete details of hospitality, not only in your homes and intentional gatherings but also out in public when you meet new people unexpectedly. Mary’s response also brings up how our hospitality is shaped by our culture(s), while Charlene’s shows how hospitality requires inner work. And Karen, we will work on getting that blog on curiosity reposted or woven into all this!

  5. Kathryn Meyer says:

    Hospitality to me is seeing each plate that a guest is holding as a blank slate. Every day in the kitchen it is our calling to fill those plates with something nourishing. Now, that can have many meanings. When I am working with food, I am constantly thinking about not only how to make something edible, but how to make it colorful and inspiring, as if I am writing a love letter to each person sitting at the table.
    Everything from maintaining a clean kitchen, harvesting a garden, to babysitting the meals as they snooze in the convection oven– all come from acts of servitude and the drive to produce quality dishes that not only answer to our human needs to eat, but also create an experience. Maybe making new memories—or perhaps bringing past ones back. If done with heart, a good cook can be capable of that tapping on our noses like that.
    Every morning as the sun rises and a chicken lays an egg, I am given the chance to enhance someone’s day by what I put on their plate. Most things in this world I cannot control, but by seeing food as a vehicle that can help make someone’s life a little bit richer, rather than just another meal that satisfies an appetite, I view it as my responsibility as a cook to do just that. This also means being a dedicated student to my work, and viewing myself as a blank canvas that is consistently working on building a palette of culinary techniques. For me, hospitality is manicuring those skills, always searching for room to grow so that those empty white plates coming through the line continue to resemble delicious, artful, relevant meals.
    Like an eggshell, life is a fragile thing. But it is through the subtle, shepherding acts of care attached what we do when we are given that basket of eggs, a block of cheese, some milk and butter—that can not only fuel us, but motivate us as well. Hospitality is being cognizant of those vulnerable, barren, damaged spaces and in reaction, trying to soothe and restore some of the faith that’s been lost. And every once in a while, a whisk can serve like a magic wand.

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