Over the past sixteen weeks, I have observed new realities relating to space and have seen and learned new lessons that are shaping and forming my philosophy on hospitality, particularly as it relates to the physical space. Today I want to share a few of these stories with you and put into words what I am watching and learning. This is my hospitality journey unfolding in real time.
In late March, I made decisions regarding the literal space of the Hurley House store. I decided to close our retail space due to mandated lock-down measures, and even when those mandates were lifted, I decided to proceed forward, for the foreseeable future, with the same restrictions in place. Without warning, one of the major pillars of my hospitality business ceased to exist for the public at large.
When the pandemic hit and the economy entered lock-down, my business was able to continue serving our clients through our drive-through window. For the first two weeks of lock-down, our business exploded. We had a product that our clients needed and a business model that was well-suited to the circumstances. We fed an enormous number of families during that time.
But the bakery counter and farmhouse tables, known for being spaces of connection or quiet contemplation, were no longer available to those outside our doors. I chose to say no to providing physical space to our customers even though this space was central to what I believe about hospitality. I stood firm in my decision, and although it was not easy, it was the right decision for my business and my staff.
I began to face an interesting question. Could Hurley House still exercise hospitality without a space?
As the days and weeks continued to unfold, full of unknowns and moments of anxiety, I began to see the truth of hospitality surface and take shape in new ways. Truth has a way of bobbing to the top of the water, even when tides change. We were no longer offering physical space for our customers. But the idea of space ushering in change still persisted, only instead of the change existing for a walk-in guest, the opportunity for change took form in the lives of those of us who were walking through the pandemic as employees and team members of my hospitality business.
By saying no, I was able to say yes.
The areas where we said no were not easy. We said no to walk-in traffic, private events, and lunch guests. We said no to being open on Saturday. We said no to our normal business hours. We said no to certain products on our menu. We tightened up what we were offering, focusing on the most vital items, times, and days. We had to adjust to these changes, but for the most part, they were met with grace and understanding.
The areas in which I said yes were fundamentally important to the health and safety of our team members and their families, as well as to the health and vitality of our business. Each yes ushered in a change.
We said yes to creating a low-risk work environment for our small staff so that they could continue to work and support their families. This decision ushered in a bond between our staff because we were in this together, feeling the waves of grief, confusion, and anxiety. We knew the stakes. One positive test or confirmed exposure, and we would all be without a job. If we couldn’t work, then we couldn’t serve our community.
We said yes to increased demand for our products and allowed our kitchen prep work to spill out into our retail space. This decision transformed our dining tables into prep tables, our beverage station into a pantry, and our packaging area into a cinnamon roll finishing factory.
We said yes to producing more creative content centered around hospitality, and we set up a make-shift studio for recording videos and shooting photos. One of our long tables became a huge desk full of laptops and file folders as we figured out plans for the future. Our framed chalkboard became the back drop for cooking videos and live segments on social media. Our hall housed our lighting rigs, tripods, and extension cords, ready at a moment’s notice to create.
All of these yes’s were only possible because of a no.
The decision to say no to one set of individuals and situations allowed us to say yes to our staff, their families, our community, and our mission of modeling hospitality to our audience. If we wanted to continue to stay open, if we wanted to have a place where we could create, if we wanted to be able to put our hands to work and fill our day with purpose and action, then we would need a healthy staff. We would need room to roll out more cinnamon rolls and assemble more enchiladas. We would need to space to create and connect with our community during this difficult time.
We created space for ourselves so that we could continue to create space for others.
As this massive space-related shift was taking place inside the business, another beautiful shift was happening outside the business. The physical space at Hurley House became a sanctuary.
Like all churches, my church was not meeting corporately during the lock-down. And, like most churches, the leadership wanted to still offer virtual worship resources for our congregation. I offered Hurley House as an available space for our pastor to record his weekly sermons. He took me up on the offer, and for several weeks it was just Pastor Brian, my rinky-dink tripod, a few box lights, his iphone, and me sitting quietly while he recorded his sermon.
When Easter rolled around, Brian and the church leadership wanted to create something more substantial and special. They decided it would be great to record live music in addition to the sermon to celebrate Easter. The live music team included me and three other musicians. Wade, Andy, Kaitlyn and I sang and played live music for the Easter virtual service. A member of our congregation who is a professional camera and lighting technician also joined the fun, taking our low-tech situation up several notches.
The Easter service was a hit, and the leadership team decided to continue on with the live music service format. For the next eight weeks, we met and recorded a worship service in the Hurley House space on Saturday, and it was uploaded to YouTube on Sunday for our congregation to watch.
The space where we sold cinnamon rolls and chicken salad, where we packaged bagel chips and rice krispie treats, grew to allow room for the sacred. We sang the doxology, praising God from whom all blessings flow. We recited the Apostle’s Creed. We prayed and sang, corporately confessed our sins, and received a benediction. It was beautiful.
My favorite memories from the season of recording worship videos at Hurley House include the week there was a very aggressive fly that would not leave us alone. He buzzed around Brian’s head, Kaitlyn’s violin, and my arm while we all did our best to keep a straight face.
I loved the way the kitchen became the backstage green room, where we would grab coffee and whisper conversations about how we thought the first few songs had gone while we waited to go back out and continue singing.
I recall fondly the camaraderie I built with other people who were willing to enter into something very unconventional and at times awkward for the sake of leading others in worship. We built a huge sense of trust and connection during those eight weeks, both with ourselves and each other.
I love the memory of feeling the most vulnerable and exposed I have ever felt when recorded on video, and yet pushing through that raw feeling and coming out on the other side braver and more confident of my ability to do hard things.
I love the growth I saw in each member of our worship team. We started out shaky, not sure where to look or how to stand, uncertain if we were singing too loud or not loud enough, when to smile, how to be still, willing to be seen, but not sure what it would look like once we watched the recording. We grew together through all of this, and the process was formative for me personally and for us as a microcosm of a larger community.
The space between what is ordinary and what is sacred is razor-thin, and at times, when we look closely, we can see that the two mingle a bit, mixing the mundane with the holy, holding loosely the dividing line between work and worship. Beauty emerged in the Hurley House space, in unprecedented ways, and I tend to think that were it not for the difficult decision to say no inside my business, I might have missed this specific expression of the beauty that hospitality can bring.
Sometimes in order to make space for new things, you have to remove existing things. It’s true at a dinner table, and it’s true in life. Space is finite, both inside a room and inside our hearts and lives. There is a limit. The paradox is that removing doesn’t cause change to shrink. Instead, it causes it to flourish.
When we make difficult decisions to create space by leaning into our limits, embracing them despite their discomfort, we can watch new beauty grow in unexpected ways. This is the splendor of hospitality in action, a truth that persists even in a pandemic. Creating space, sometimes in our literal spaces and other times in our metaphorical places, will always bring change, beauty, and growth.