Hospitality: warmth and acceptance

Over the years, Santa Clara’s campus ministry has grown and developed in order to fulfill its mission of fostering the growth of the spiritual lives of its student body. Today we offer several programs each week, hoping to provide at least one type of activity or group that could appeal to each student. Thus, it makes sense that each has a different approach, feel, and target group.
However, there is one aspect that each area of ministry holds in common with each other: hospitality. Setting up different programs, discussions, and services is only half of the process. In order for each of us to be successful in our ministry, we need to provide a welcoming environment where students can feel safe to explore their spirituality. Spirituality and faith are very sensitive topics and it can be very easy to offend or exclude someone because of a slight difference in beliefs or practices. Hospitality involves extending a warm welcome and acceptance to each person that makes the brave decision to explore his or her spirituality with others, especially if the newcomer doesn’t know anyone in the group.
I’ll admit, when I was first hired as the Hospitality intern, I had very little idea of what it entailed. Wasn’t it just passing out snacks after the 9 p.m. Mass on Sunday? Well … that’s part of it, but definitely not the true essence of it. Hospitality is seeing, accepting, and engaging with others. Back home, at least 95% of the usual crowd at church was Catholic. The Mission at Santa Clara attracts a much more diverse crowd. Standing at the front of the doors of the Mission, I cannot tell who belongs to what religious group. Is this person Catholic? Presbyterian? Methodist? Are they more traditional or progressive? Are they Christian or do they follow another faith? It doesn’t matter. None of that matters. Regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, style, or lack of style (that one would be me) each person is a person--a human being who wants to engage in our liturgy, who hopes to gain something positive from the experience. That is what matters. I have learned to see people as people and not just what they identify as and, rather than judge them based on the differences, celebrate that the differences are not enough to keep us from praying together.
Since I took on this ministry, I have come to enjoy welcoming students each Sunday at Mass and seeing how much they want to be there. This is the key to making hospitality work. Hospitality requires two people: one to open his or her arms, and another to enter into the embrace. I am privileged to witness this, almost on a daily basis: seeing people walk into our office or into Mission Santa Clara and truly wanting to be there. The students we minister to complete our ministry, and I feel truly blessed to take part in something so simple and meaningful each day.