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Welcoming Guests from Every Direction

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are sometimes called the Abrahamic faiths because all three trace their ancestry to the household of Sarah, Hagar and Abraham. Abraham is viewed as the symbolic father of all three religions. And in the stories about the man and his household, they are renowned for their generous hospitality. It is said that Abraham’s house had a door on each of its four sides, to make it easier to welcome visitors no matter what direction they came from. Often Abraham and other members of his family would linger in these doorways, or just outside them, watching the horizon for travelers who might need a meal or a place to rest. The welcoming of strangers was Abraham’s signature virtue – and again, this is the celebrated shared ancestor of three of the world’s great faiths.

The practice of hospitality – not just offering charity from what you have in excess, but sharing what you have to meet the needs of others – is a vital religious value. In the time and place in which the stories of Abraham are set – thousands of years ago in a region made up mostly of insular, antagonistic communities scattered in a pretty hostile environment – it is easy to see why hospitality would be highly prized. Without the kindness of strangers, travelers would have had little hope of surviving beyond the bounds of their native communities. And taking in a wanderer would have been a risky proposition in such a dangerous world, so just entertaining a guest would have been an act of faith.

We live in an era now of extreme privatization. There is very little common space left and most land is owned by a specific person or persons, and restricted to their use. This supposedly increases the security of those who have a place to live and to be, but it leaves those who do not both metaphorically and literally out in the cold. Homelessness is a reality for a great many people, and families, here in Beverly and on the North Shore. Last May, I preached about our congregation’s standing commitment to serve those in need of material support in our community, most directly through our supper program. And I mentioned a new opportunity to expand this mission, as several of our multi-faith neighbors were exploring forming an Interfaith Hospitality Network. My sermon can be found here on the church website, and you can read more about the concept here, but simply put, an IHN is an alliance of congregations that creates a distributed shelter for homeless families. Congregations volunteer the use of their space for a week at a time a few times a year, and during these weeks a small number of families come to live in your building, allowing them to have a safe, warm place to sleep and remain intact as a family while they work to find permanent housing.

At their January meeting, your board of trustees heard a description of the program and what it would entail for First Parish to become a host congregation from the newly formed Family Promise North Shore Boston – our local IHN. They have ten host congregations lined up, and need thirteen to begin hosting families. Obviously, such a major decision about the use of our space, with such a significant, long-term commitment is something we should decide collectively. The board has given its blessing to bring the discussion to the whole congregation, in preparation for a potential vote at the next congregational meeting. There will be a town meeting to offer information and foster conversation about this opportunity for service on Sunday, February 26th at 12pm. Choosing to commit to this undertaking would be no small thing, and it should not be taken lightly. It is, however, a major opportunity to follow the spirit of our church, which is love, and the law of our congregation, which is service. I hope to see a great many of you at the meeting on the 26th, I encourage you to explore the project at the link above and here, and I thank you for all that you are already doing, in ways both large and small, to make our congregation a place that welcomes guests from every direction.


In Faith,
Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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