Upside Down, Inside Out, and Sideways

I am not artsy-crafty. I don’t really cook. I don’t believe in ironing. I am about as far from extroverted as you can get.

So how did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess for my church’s Alpha course?

Alpha is an international program of interactive sessions designed to explore the big questions of life and faith.  It was originally intended to minister to people who would not necessarily identify themselves as churchgoers or Christians.  The target audience has expanded to include anyone who wants to feel more connected, passionate, and intimate about the Christian faith.  The program lasts for twelve weeks, meeting once a week.  Every session includes a shared meal, a video about basic concepts of Christianity, and small group discussions.  One of the significant hallmarks of the program is that it should provide a welcoming, low-pressure environment that organically encourages comfort, trust, introspection, and searching. 

The Hospitality Princess is responsible for making sure the room where the sessions take place is warm and welcoming.  This includes décor and table arrangement and all things environment.  She is also responsible for either cooking a meal for the Alpha guests each week or cajoling friends, relations, and people who owe her money to provide a meal. There is also the small matter of clean-up and laundering table linens after each session.  Then, there is the hospitality princess’ most important royal duty of all- welcoming guests, bonding with them, genuinely loving them, and allowing that love to be palpable. 

So, I’ll ask again.  How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?  It seems difficult to think how a person could be worse-suited for the job than I am.

When I heard about Alpha at our church’s ministry fair, I was interested.  I read somewhere that ministry is the place where a person’s skill and passion intersect with a need of the people of God.  When I was working, I taught leadership classes on a fairly regular basis.  I loved it and I was quite good at it, if I do say so myself.  From what I understood of Alpha, the approach and techniques sounded very similar to what I employed in my leadership classes.  The content and objectives were different, but the overall strategy seemed similar.  In both situations, the idea is to help people explore important questions.  Both experiences try to grow understanding and confidence in an environment that encourages trust, openness, and experimentation.  I volunteered to help with Alpha.  I thought I could assist with facilitating small group discussions or something like that. 

During our initial Alpha team organization meeting, our administrator mentioned that we needed someone to take care of the hospitality aspects of the program (Hospitality Princess is my self-proclaimed title).  When he described the less tangible needs, like transforming an institutional parish hall to evoke comfort and coziness, my mind harkened back to more of the techniques I used when teaching the leadership classes. He also described some of the more tangible needs, like providing meals.  The closest thing to providing a meal I ever did when teaching leadership courses was supplying the occasional box of donuts.  I didn’t want to subject our guests to my weaknesses, especially one as profound as cookery.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to avoid volunteering if I was the only one willing.  I said I would coordinate the hospitality elements, if no one else wanted to do so.  I explained the limited skills I brought to the table, and disclosed the areas in which my talents were subterranean. 

No one else volunteered.

Fast forward several weeks and I am in the midst of the Hospitality Princess revelries.  Despite my many deficiencies, things are going well. Let me tell you about it.

I am not artsy-crafty.

While I will never be artistic, I relied on my prior experience to create what I believe is an appropriate environment.  When I was working, I had this theory about décor for classes and celebrations.  I called it The “Essence Of” Theory. Instead of obsessing and spending a lot of money trying to create specific effects, I made do with the “essence of.”  Hospitality didn’t have to look like what I had in mind, it just had to evoke that idea.  For instance, if you can’t have champagne in a federal government workplace, you can have sparkling cider to make people think “champagne” and “celebration.”  If you want to decorate a room to suggest a beach theme, it might not be practical to import sand, but you can place buckets and shovels strategically on a beige bedsheet in a corner of the room.  I once taught a lesson about the qualities of a good leader.  Part of that lesson involved an analogy from the Wizard of Oz.  My colleagues and I acted out part of the story.  I played Toto.  I did not wear a dog suit, but I arranged my hair into two scruffy ponytails sticking up out of my head. I didn’t look like a dog, but I was the “essence of” Toto and I evoked the associations people had with The Wizard Of Oz. 

I don’t really cook.

During session three of Alpha, I cooked dinner for over 50 people and no one needed a trip to the emergency room.  Not even me.  I have another dinner planned in a couple of weeks.  My bar for success for that meal is that I once again avoid poisoning anyone.  I have reasonable confidence that I will meet that admittedly low standard. I do intend to declare victory.  I have individuals or groups signed up to handle the other ten nights of dinners.  I am certain that these meals will prove much more satisfying to everyone involved. My role will simply be to support these folks in their food preparation efforts and applaud. 

I don’t believe in ironing.

I found out, to my relief, that the tablecloths beneath my non-poisonous dinners are permanent press.  I’ve laundered the tablecloths several times.  They seem to come out of the dryer clean.  There might be a few suspicious wrinkles, but they smooth out when I put the cloths back on the tables for the next session.  One could argue that I really don’t need to launder all the tablecloths every week.  However, if I didn’t bring the tablecloths home to wash, I’d have to hang them in the linen cupboard of our parish hall.  There is a specific, origami-inspired technique for folding the tablecloths over hangers.  It terrifies me. 

I am about as far from extroverted as you can get.

Here we have it.  Nothing has changed on that front.  I am still about as far from extroverted as you can get.  I do have an overactive sense of duty and a genuine heart for people.  As a result, my extreme introversion sometimes takes a back seat to showing people how much I value them.  I am still incredibly introverted, but I see it as my job to make our guests feel welcome and comfortable.  I am still incredibly introverted, but I honestly want our guests to feel loved and wanted…wherever they are in their journey.  If I do not engage with them, they will never know what is in my heart.  Such engagement is sweet, but also takes a lot of energy out of an introvert.  I am still incredibly introverted, which means I am incredibly tired.  On the other hand, things seem to be going incredibly well. 

So, I’ll ask again.  How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?  All other considerations aside, how did the person with the highest level of introversion get to be the person whose most important task requires the highest level of engagement? 

I still didn’t get it.  Then, our rector’s wife and my friend, Sunny (some of you might remember her from my post at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2018/05/growing-grown-ups/) told me about something she experienced months before Alpha started. She said she had been praying about the program and wondering who would be willing to coordinate the hospitality elements.  It had been on her mind and on her heart for days.  Then, one night, she felt that God was just telling her “Terri will do it.”  She knew nothing about my background.  She didn’t even know me very well.  She just felt that God had the whole thing sorted.  I would be the Hospitality Princess, no matter how unlikely. No one ever mentioned this to me until several weeks into the program. 

How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?

I think I am beginning to understand.  Something our rector said in his sermon last week seems to apply.  God does not call the qualified.  He qualifies the called.  It seems that God is qualifying me- turning me inside-out, upside down, and sideways.  And so, the reinvention continues….

Have you ever had an experience that you believe is God “qualifying” you?  Tell us about it! Please leave a comment to share your perspective.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a hospitable day!  And be a princess (or prince) if you are so inclined!

Terri/Dorry 😊

herbed chicken
Alpha decor

2 thoughts on “Upside Down, Inside Out, and Sideways”

  1. You did a very special job with a position I would not even think of in being active in the leadership level of instruction. Wow, and to think you did it as an introvert in that position. I would love to hear what you served and how it all went together. You are an amazing leader, as I know from the past in our working career. You do amaze me and always will.

    Give us a follow up in how you served and what you served, etc….I know you can do it.

    Thanks

    1. Thanks, Lois! I just tried to add some pictures, but I seem to be inept. The service that supports the blog recently made some changes and I’m having a hard time adapting. Anyway, I made herb-encrusted baked chicken breasts, baked beans, and potato chips for the first dinner. A friend contributed salad and rolls. Another friend did dessert, since I was going to just do vanilla ice cream. For my next meal, I’m doing taco casserole. Friends are contributing salad, cornbread, and dessert.

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