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Food, smiles, buildings and outreach say welcome

by Carol Price Spurling

The spiritual practice of hospitality at the Veradale United Church of Christ in Spokane Valley means sharing God’s love with friends and strangers through the building, people, worship, ministries, outreach, advocacy and, of course, food.

It is expressed in everything the church does, said the Rev. Linda Crowe, pastor.

Rev Linda Crowe
Linda Crowe

Hospitality often involves food, because food is “the most basic element of hospitality.” So as in many churches there is food in a fellowship hour after worship, as well as on special occasions such as the church’s annual fund-raising Harvest Dinner, its Plum Pudding Festival and other meals.

The church seeks to express hospitality through the many aspects of its life together, said Linda.
Hospitality may be just in a smile. A poster in the entry says: “We all smile in the same language.”  It is also about people opening their hearts to each other in times of struggle or any time.  It’s about building use and maintenance, and church life from worship to outreach.

To facilitate food-related hospitality, when the church remodeled several years ago it built its new kitchen up to health codes.

That was instigated in part so they could continue to prepare and provide meals for Volunteers of America’s Crosswalk program for homeless youth on the streets of downtown Spokane.

The remodeling also included adding a fellowship hall, making more space for community groups to use the building.

This winter the church served a Christmas dinner for members and the community.
Scouts and Alcoholics Anonymous use the church during the week for their regular meetings.  Progress Elementary School across the street has used the building for programs and has it designated as a place for students to go in an emergency.

Signs inside the door let people know where the meeting rooms and offices are. On tables just inside the door, Linda places invitations to the worship services and fellowship activities, so people who are in the church for AA and scout meetings know they are welcome, too.
“We’re trying to break down walls between church members and church users,” said Linda, noting that some who come for AA attend services.

Bulletin boards and art in the entry share a welcoming message.

In December, she used a denominational poster that said, “We don’t say ‘O Come Some of Ye Faithful.’”

Linda also chooses artwork to reflect the congregation’s interest in people other than themselves: Some art is from Guatemala and some from El Salvador.

“We live in an area that is so white. Our ethnic minorities are a tiny minority,” she said, “but we’ve broken the color barrier and have people of different colors in our mix.”

Some UCC congregations have officially become “open and affirming,” which means they welcome everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation.

“That gives a message of hospitality in a way that really matters,” she said. “Our church has not gone through the official process, but in the words and in the visual cues we give, the way we act, that message lets people know.”

The UCC’s tradition of social justice is founded on the old idea of hospitality, offering others generosity and respect, Linda explained.

“Recently our conference minister had forwarded something to me that was about saying ‘no’ to torture, so we tucked that concern about justice into our worship bulletin as an insert,” she said.
To nurture and love sisters and brothers across the continent, Veradale UCC has for several years participated in mission work camps in cooperation with the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC to help Hurricane Katrina victims rebuild their homes and lives in New Orleans.

Building maintenance that makes the church building look loved says, “Welcome.”

In the winter, it means keeping the parking lot plowed and sidewalks shoveled so people can safely access the building.

In spring and summer, “the place looks like someone loves it and cares for it,” she said. “This spring there will be an amazing welcome, because we planted hundreds of bulbs. We’ll be blooming like crazy.”

When members gather, they make sure someone outgoing is there to welcome and greet people. In worship, Linda says out loud the UCC words of welcome that are printed in the bulletin: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”  She also says it before communion twice a month. 

“When we sit down and share a cup of tea or a meal, we learn more about a person,” she said. “Sharing happens at a different level around the table.”

“For our church, the fellowship time after worship is as important as the worship itself,” Linda said.  “People stay, visit and eat.  Some important nurturing happens during that time.”

When fellowship or Bible study groups gather, there is food.  “We feed body and soul,” said Linda.
Recently, a church member preached on hospitality, saying his mother was his first model for hospitality. When he was growing up, there wasn’t always enough food to go around, but there was always enough to share with people in need.

Along with eating food, members also grow vegetables and fruit in the church’s garden. The produce they raise—more than a ton in 2008—goes to the Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank.
“During the garden season, people come to care for the garden,” Linda explained. “What started as people showing up to weed, turned into people working and then sharing a meal. Hospitality and fellowship happens in hands-on work and around the table.”

Recently the church conducted a memorial service for a man who was not in the church, but whose mother helps with the garden.

“I’ve seen God working because of this group. When I sent out an email to ask if people could provide hospitality and help for the memorial service, the response was just wonderful. People didn’t know him, but his mother and the whole family were nurtured in an important way.”

For information, call 926-7173.