We host a Boys and Girls Club downstairs in our old fellowship hall. About 40 kids attend the club each afternoon, Monday through Friday. We started the club about a year ago, and it has grown steadily and is now seen as a community asset. Hosting this club was a stretch for our church, but we voted to do it, and our people have been pleased with the arrangement so far.
The club attracts a diverse group of kids from a variety of families. Some are at-risk kids, some are not. Most come from homes on the economic fringe. Our church membership is made up of a retired Virginia Supreme Court justice, attorneys, educators, business leaders, and old-line families. Two different groups which seldom interacted. Even after we started the Boys and Girls Club, the kids were “downstairs” in surplus space. We were “upstairs” in our new fellowship hall.
On Wednesday nights, we have a fellowship meal at our church, like a lot of other churches do. The meal begins at 5:45 PM and the Boys and Girls Club ends at 6 PM. Before Thanksgiving, a couple of older kids came “upstairs” at the time we were eating and asked if they could have dessert. Of course, we gave them some pie.
The next week, more came and asked if they could eat. Of course, we said, “Yes.” But it was an uneasy “yes.” They sat at one table, we all sat at our tables. Not much was said between. This has gone on for about six weeks. A kind of tolerance, but certainly not hospitality.
Word of the supper has gotten around in the community. Last night, Greg, the director of the club, asked me if a lot of kids, and maybe some parents, could come eat with us. And eight teens showed up, went through the buffet line, got food, and filled up a table.
After dinner, we sit around the tables for Bible study and prayer time. The kids stayed, some still eating. I called the group to prayer, and we started taking prayer requests as is our custom. One of our men turned to the kids and asked, “Do you have any prayer requests?” One young man said “yes” that his cousin Keyanna had cancer and could we pray for her. At that moment something changed. Our older congregation sensed that these kids, who don’t look like us, were indeed just like us. They have families, they have concerns, they understand about prayer.
The Bible study was on Joshua, chapter 1, where God says, “Be strong and courageous.” The kids slipped out about 7:15 PM while I was still talking. After they left, I asked our members how they felt about opening our Wednesday night meal to these kids and their families each week. I could see the struggle. The conversation started out about the cost, but everyone knew we were dodging the real issue. The real issue was, “Are we going to practice hospitality?”
There was a moment when I was not sure of the outcome. Conflicted thoughts hung in the air like smoke. But then someone said, “It’s the only right thing to do.” Someone else agreed. A collective resolve settled over the group. We had crossed over into a new land. Maybe it was a land we should have come to 40-years before. But we were here now and this time we made it.