BY VELDA BAKER
A couple of years ago, all employees of Penrose St Francis hospitals were asked to add a mission statement to their email signatures. At that time, I was reading Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out. Nouwen writes about reaching out to self, others, and God. Some days I missed working in a Hospital, and as I reflected on Nouwen’s study of Hospitality and Hospitable in his book, I started to view my work at the Neighborhood Nurse Center (NNC) in a new light. The fact that HOSPITAL and HOSPITALITY have the same root word was not new to me, but I saw those words in a new way. How can my office at Marian House be a Hospitable space? I am not working in a Hospital, but how is my office like a hospital? Christ asks us to be welcoming (hospitable) to the stranger. So, my mission statement became: “I am on a mission to provide hospitable space to listen, assess, encourage, and advocate for the medically underserved in our community.”
As a Faith Community Nurse, I am called to provide a physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe and hospitable space. I had not thought about this much since adding my mission statement, but an article by Gracey Olmstead in the Plough magazine prompted me to revisit hospitality.
Below are a few thoughts from Olmstead’s article in which she refers to Henri Nouwen’s book that I found encouraging and freeing.
- Imaginative work
- Making space through expectation and faith
- Preparing room
- Embracing the risk and fear of the broken world
- A loving welcome
Hospitality invites us to:
- Embrace the fragility and singularity of the other
- Make a way for what is most singular in others. Seeing them as they are rather than merely as we want them to be.
- Create a space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy
- Not change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. Where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free.
Olmstead’s article reminded me that I am not called to impose my idea of what is best on someone. I can provide ideas and suggestions and ask what they want. It removes the need to change others; this cannot and should not be my goal. That is freeing for myself as well as my guests. Olmstead’s article has stretched my definition of Hospitality and will impact my care in the future. A final quote from Henri Nouwen echoes a frequent theme in his work and reminds me that I am called to serve not when I have everything perfect in my life but here and now: “It is only when we’ve realized our poverty that we can become good hosts.”
Penrose St. Francis Neighborhood Nurse Center at Catholic Charities provides a wide range of services – medical, mental, and spiritual. Velda Baker has office hours Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.