A Happy Heart Offers Hospitality

“A happy heart makes the face cheerful” Proverbs 15:13a

Mark Bruinsma, one of the founders of Heritage Christian Services was an incredible example of hospitality in his faith community. Mark had Down’s syndrome and had an amazing impact on his faith community. He was a world changer. Even years after he entered heaven, I have met people that shared that Mark was the reason they came back a second time to visit the church.

Mark was known to take time to give a big smile and a warm hug to each person who came into the lobby of his church. He also took time to ask questions to learn about each person he met! He had a neat way of making people feel welcomed and valued. People said they wanted to experience more of the faith community that Mark represented.

This winning combination gave Mark the role to welcome new visitors for decades. This joy was also seen when he would lead the choir and congregation in his favorite song “How Great Thou art.” Many said that Mark’s happy heart and cheerful smile drew their hearts toward him and brought them into a closer relationship with God.

Contributed by Diane Sturmer, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.

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I Have to go to My Church

We are delighted to welcome a guest to share a part of her journey where the intersection of ability and faith really hit home with her. Mary Lynn is the mother of an adult son with developmental disabilities. When she was invited to share a story about faith community and hospitality she related a story about the deep connection that her son (who lives in a group home) has developed with his church:

It still brings a smile to my face when I think of it. Mother’s Day was coming and I was talking to my son, David, about spending the weekend at my house. He seemed to be thinking it over, which had me puzzled. Finally, in spite of a serious speech impediment, he managed to tell me, “I have to go to my church, not Mama’s church, my church St. Paul’s.” Of course I agreed. The Pastor at his church had a sister with Down’s Syndrome. He and his staff, as well as many of the parishioners, are very welcoming and inclusive with David and his friends. It is truly the love of Christ in action.

Hospitality to Strangers

Will Rogers, iconic American film actor from the 1950s said, “A stranger is a friend I have not met yet.” This stranger who is a potential friend could be the person passed on the sidewalk, the man or woman standing next to you at the bus stop, the new family that moved in down the road or the person seated in a wheelchair behind you at church. The basics of initiating a relationship include a smile, making eye contact and giving a greeting.

Let’s do some imaginary role-playing. Imagine that it is Monday morning and you are standing at the bus stop when a stranger stands beside you. Politeness requires a greeting. Hellos are exchanged, the bus comes and the day continues. Tuesday morning comes at the same bus stop. The stranger is again waiting for the same bus. Hellos are again exchanged, perhaps with a non-committal comment about the weather. Wednesday and Thursday the same greetings are exchanged. The Friday greeting includes a comment about the upcoming weekend. When the second Monday of the two people at the bus stop arrives the greeting is more natural and eye contact is established. What is happening? A relationship is developing. It may never be more than two people greeting each other at a shared bus stop, but it has the potential to grow into a connection, then an acquaintance relationship and possibly a full blown friendship.

Now let us imagine that the ‘stranger who is not yet your friend’ is the person who is sitting in a wheelchair behind you at church. Imagine that the pastor/priest says it is time to exchange a sign of peace or to greet those around you. You turn around to exchange a handshake with the person behind you and see that she is seated in a wheelchair. What do you do? In the matter of a split second your mind races around: It would be rude to ignore her; it looks like her right hand is pulled up next to her shoulder so how do I shake her hand; should I speak loudly to be sure she can hear me? Remember, she is just another person, just like the stranger from the bus stop. Start with a smile. If she cannot extend her right hand wait a brief second to see if she extends her left hand and if she does than follow suit. If she does not reach out to you than you can still make eye contact, smile and exchange a greeting of peace with her. Now imagine that the service is ended and she is still sitting behind you. How would you interact with her if she was not sitting in a wheelchair but was just a stranger behind you in church? Smile, make a comment about the weather or the sermon, exchange a handshake or hug and then go home for lunch. That is how you should interact with the stranger sitting in a wheelchair. To create a more comfortable environment for her you should sit down next to her or face back-wards from a seated position in your seat. This places both of you on the same eye level. Introduce yourself. It is very appropriate that part of the after church conversation includes asking the stranger how you should exchange the sign of peace with her next week if she sits behind you again. If she has a friend or family member with her it is polite to include them in the conversation as well, but remember that they are two distinct persons so do not address the friend and exclude the person in the wheelchair. Unless the person in the wheelchair shares with you that she has a hearing loss and needs you to speak loudly you should not speak loudly or exaggeraterate your enunciations. The need to utilize a wheelchair for mobility does not mean that a person has other disabilities such as deafness or intellectual disabilities. A relationship is developing. It may never be more than two people greeting each other at church, but it has the potential to grow into a connection, then an acquaintance and possibly a full blown friendship.

Hebrews 13:1-2 “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertangels agels unawares.”

Written by Lida Merrill, Director of Spiritual Life, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.