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Pamela Meeks: Guinea Pig hospitality

“Mom, all your stories are about you talking to strangers. How embarrassing.”

This is what my ten-year-old son said as we talked about our day around the dinner table. I laughed because it was true and it seems better than saying, “My mom walks the streets!”

I do that too, but not in the way you might think. I am praying as I walk the streets. I’m thinking and reflecting on what the Gospel might look like here in my neighborhood. I have mosquito bites from sitting out in the grass with the neighborhood children as they pet my guinea pigs. Sometimes my 8 year old neighbor even asks to see the rat or the turtle. I get grass stains on my knees as they tell me stories about their lives, little stories, but I am listening hard for the wind of the Spirit blowing in their hearts and in their lives.

I might normally want to collapse on the couch after dinner, but I am learning to get outside on my front porch or parking lot. My neighborhood is a walking neighborhood. Some people pass by on their way to work as cleaning staff at the hotels close by. Others wait at the local shuttle that will take them to the store.

Not everyone likes it, but Walmart is walking distance for us. And everyone knows Walmart hosts the people of the nations on any given day. So, it was natural for me to strike up a conversation there with the Vietnam veteran the day after Memorial Day. It’s natural for me to walk a few extra steps to meet the guy walking his dog or walking with his toddler son on a tricycle. It’s natural for me to think up fun games to play with the kids in someone else’s front yard while the adults look on and get to know me, building trust, building bridges one bit at a time. And we are always asking, what’s next and how can we go deeper.

My husband and I sensed our strategy would be simple. “Live life in the open, and practice simple hospitality.”

Slowly, we are putting the pieces together as we discern who’s social and who wants to be left alone. And it is not uncommon for me to say to myself, “I really need to learn Spanish, already!”  For the moments in my life when I want a multi-point strategy with time lines, I have to tell myself to be patient. We just moved in mid- February and we are still getting ideas. My husband and I sensed our strategy would be simple. “Live life in the open, and practice simple hospitality.” This is more like, “bring out the foosball table, bring out the lemonade, and be ready to hang out with whoever comes by.” Meanwhile, we ask the Lord in prayer, “Is this a person of peace?”

So, as we get to know our new neighbors I try to strike a balance, taking my cues from them. I often have to remind myself that there is a difference between being a nosy neighbor and a concerned one. Hopefully I am able to strike the right balance and communicate what I want. If the young people hanging out on the sidewalk close to my house are not doing something illegal, I can encourage it. Either way, I am going to know their face and speak to them. In an effort to be careful, I make sure that the friendship I have with the kids is out in the open, in my yard or on the street. And all the while, I am listening with my heart and my spirit for God’s spirit to tell me how he might want to touch this child or this family. This is slow work. Building trust always is. But our family is called to develop a worshiping community right here in our neighborhood.

Pamela Meeks is an Anglican priest in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic. She lives in Leesburg, Virginia. 

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