by Dorothy Probst

I MET SARAH, MY THEOLOGY PROFESSOR’S WIFE, in a YMCA water aerobics class. Upon learning that I was her husband’s student at the seminary, Sarah befriended me. I was often invited to their home for lively barbeque parties. My family had all passed away or were distant to me. I became a fixture in their loving home, which was filled with seminary and university students. With affection and laughter, Sarah and her husband gathered us together for large family-style meals. As we made the long, often lonely journey toward advanced degrees, they gave us individual emotional support. Our friendships germinated into growing relationships that blessed and changed me.

The fellowship we shared in their home was so different from my upbringing. My family seemed unable to flourish. We lived in poverty of home and spirit, with unsettled mealtimes. Our house was small and cramped, and no invitations were offered to others. We kept people away, and there were no chairs for guests at our small table anyway.

In contrast, I luxuriated in Sarah’s large, generous table, heaped full of easiness and light. Her table was a beacon for students at the local seminary and nearby colleges. I loved it there. My heart melted into lively conversations and shared experiences with my peers.

Over time, I became a regular part of their holiday celebrations—an incredible blessing that has continued for more than 20 years. God transformed me through the generous social circle of hospitality created by Sarah and her husband. They adopted me into a family, a Christian community of friends offering warmth, acceptance and affirmation for one’s uniqueness. Through this community, God has given me new relationships, new blessings and restored days. The pain of my own family life and my longing for a sister has been satisfied. Sarah has become my sister.

Now when I offer hospitality to friends, neighbors and strangers, I stay alert to the Holy Spirit. I remember Sarah and know God is performing spiritual work in me and in those to whom I extend myself. Through Sarah’s spiritual gifts, I learned that God’s gentle hospitality soothes spirits and performs beautiful changes unique to everyone.

Hospitality grows and multiplies relationships, empowers transformation and builds community. Through the Holy Spirit, God delights in us, lovingly holds us and feeds our spirits food and drink. As we share Christian love and faith, God changes our relationships, creating community among us and offering belonging and community through us to the greater world.

At the time, I thought Sarah’s invitation to a barbeque was just another social engagement. Yet that godly coincidence during a water aerobics class became hospitality that transformed and strengthened me and others. The many students she welcomed grew into a mature community of pastors, teachers and professionals who learned how to love, bless and shepherd people by allowing the Holy Spirit to fulfill needs. We share Sarah’s gift of God’s hospitality as we serve, creating communities that model God’s good news and transform neighborhoods and communities across the globe.

Dorothy Probst uses her gifts as an architect, a kitchen and bath designer, and a 2003 Luther Seminary graduate as she serves her congregation, Roseville (Minn.) Lutheran Church, and her community.

This article appears in the September/October 2022 issue. To read more articles like it, subscribe to Gather magazine.