hospitality.runeHospitality is a central theme of Celtic Christianity. The ancient rune to the right is a good example of the Celtic mindset when it comes to entertaining both neighbor and stranger. Many of us are “really nice people”, but too many of us, at least in the United States, have lost the art of true hospitality. We’ve become accustomed to returning home, driving into the garage, and walking into the house. When we do venture outside more often than not it’s into the backyard or back to the car to run a quick errand.

Before I launch into my top ten ideas, let me begin by confessing that some of them are still just ideas. While I’ve done many of these things, some are still forming in my mind and the ones I’ve done are still a work in progress. With that caveat, here we go:

1. Look for barriers: Does the border of your front yard create a barrier to hospitality? Is there a fence, a row of shrubbery, or other obstruction that says, “Stay on your side”? Take it down or find creative ways to poke holes of hospitality into it.

2. Put up a Little Free Library: This one’s pretty simple and one of the first things we did. You can find instructions, ideas, and plans at the LFL Website. Once you’ve got yours up and running, why not encourage an LFL community tour? You’re likely to find others in your community, and what a wonderful way to walk the neighborhood! Although we live on a small loop off the main road, our library is so well-used that I’m building a bigger one to hold all the books, adding a children’s section for all the kids who stop by with their parents!

3. Add a bench or hospitality space: A bench or space near the sidewalk is best as it doesn’t require venturing deep onto someone else’s property to take a rest.

4. Add a pet station: Dogs and other animals get tired and thirsty. Why not create a space with water, “poop bags”, and a shady spot to rest?

5. Welcome creation: Speaking of animals, don’t limit your hospitality to domesticated pets. The Celts were great at recognizing and welcoming all of God’s creation. Bees, butterflies, and other insects need water. Keep a birdbath full of fresh water, and include rocks so that there are different levels of access for the different types of animals. Also incorporate rocks and rotting wood into your garden space; good animal homes are often difficult to come by.

6. Create a “free” garden space: We added a free sun tea and herb garden and invite neighbors to feel free to cut and pick as needed. You could also consider a cutting flower garden, fruit trees, or fruit bushes.

7. Did I mention creation? Part of welcoming creation is making sure that your space is safe and accessible to animals. A birdbath too near the ground may be accessible to all, but a bit too tempting for the cat lurking nearby. Lawn and garden sprays that kill weeds and pests may make an area pretty, but they also kill bees and other beneficial wildlife.

8. Create an alternative sidewalk: While at Wild Goose Festival I was talking with a new friend about how to create hospitality in a long, narrow section along the side of his house. As we talked I had this vision of an alternative sidewalk. One could fairly easily create a wandering path, somewhat parallel to the sidewalk, that meanders through lavender, hyssop, or other flowers and fragrances. Invite your neighbors to an alternative path that helps them slow down and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of creation.

9. Create a children’s garden: If you have children in your neighborhood, why not create a garden area where kids can get their hands dirty and learn the wonders of growing their own food? One friend put in a raised garden and had the kids help by decorating the wood surrounding the beds. Ask the children what their favorite vegetables are and let them help plan the garden. If you’re in an area where strawberries grow well, why not plant a section of strawberries they can munch on while tending the garden?

10. Spend time in the front yard: All of these ideas are helpful but the best way to meet your neighbors and enter into engaging conversations and new friendships is to make sure you spend time out where you can meet them.

I realize that people may be uncomfortable with some of the ideas here. Opening our front yards to neighbors is not “normal”, and some of these may be more of a stretch for you than others, so try to start with entryways to hospitality that are easy. You can always expand as you and your neighbors get comfortable with this strange new idea of front yard hospitality.

  1. What have you tried?
  2. What has worked… or not worked so well?
  3. If you live in an apartment or don’t have a front yard, how can you use what you have to cultivate
  4. neighborhood hospitality?
  5. What other ideas do you have?

This post was originally featured on Godspace, at that time the blog for Mustard Seed Associates where Andy worked for nine years. Be sure to check out Christine Sine's Godspacelight blog featuring more of Andy's writings as well as writers from around the world exploring many aspects of Christian spirituality.

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