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“A Space Where Strangers Become Friends”

Published:
December 15, 2023
October 10, 2022
Learn how this couple committed to building community by hosting regular potlucks.|Learn how this couple committed to building community by hosting regular potlucks.

The old black and white film, Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart, has become a comfort movie to me. I watch it when I’m feeling blue or sick, curled up on the couch with a box of tissues and a bowl of ramen. I’m charmed by how each time the main character meets someone interesting, he invites them over to his house for dinner. I think of how I want to do that. I want to be the kind of person that would just invite someone over for a meal. 

The thing is — I’m not a very good cook. And sometimes, trying to schedule a time for someone to come over takes longer than the actual dinner itself. Not only that, but it can be overwhelming to plan it all — the food, the activity, the music, the people. 

But I long for community. I long to create a space where strangers become friends, and friends become regulars, frequenting your home. True community involves everyone coming together, sharing their talents and gifts to create something special. 

Once I accepted this, I realized all I had to do was provide the space and the time, put it out there, and people would show up.

When my husband and I first married, I told him my idea: to open up our home every last Friday of the month. During the month, if we met anyone new, we invited them. If they asked if they could bring something, we said yes, bring something to share but it wasn’t necessary. We had a feeling it would all work out and it did.

Thankfully, my husband is a good cook. Pretty soon, we began to pick themes. He’d make a huge lasagna for Italian night or a pot of curry for an Indian-themed night. One guest lived near the best bakery in town and brought dessert for us one night. Another frequent guest knew all the best music. If I told him the theme ahead of time, he’d make the perfect Spotify playlist for the evening. Some brought cold drinks or a bottle of wine. Others contributed a side salad or a loaf of bread. Some brought a friend, someone new to town who could use a warm welcome. 

None of us had to make a huge effort or spend a lot of money, and no one was required to bring something. It really did always work out. The more I realized it wasn’t about me having it all together, the less stressed I was and the better the evening went. Hospitality isn’t about one person — it’s about the community that comes together.

Hospitality is a way we can show love and be the “hands and feet” of the Body of Christ to others. Priest and writer Henri Nouwen wrote that hospitality is about creating a space “where the stranger can enter and become a friend, instead of an enemy.” Hospitality is not about changing people or bringing them to your side but about creating a space where they can be their authentic selves, the person they were created to be.

My husband and I continued our last Friday tradition for five years — spanning three apartments, one house, and two states (from Los Angeles to Seattle!). It was a great way for us to meet new people in our new city. Some of our Los Angeles guests even sent friends they knew in Seattle to greet us. 

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, wrote, “We cannot love God, unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him by the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.”

I found this to be true. I wanted to be a person who created space for others, and in doing so, I found a place for myself too. The friendships forged on those last Fridays have lasted years. Many are spread out all over the country and the world now. I’ve shared meals in D.C. and Portland and London, and stayed in guest rooms in New York, Bend, and Zurich because of these friendships made over a cheese plate and a pot of chili.

Creators:
Shemaiah Gonzalez
Published:
December 15, 2023
October 10, 2022
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