The Italians have mastered the art of dinner, especially when served alfresco, making even an impromptu meal memorable and relaxed. Fresh ingredients are prepared simply and deliciously then shared family style in a setting that begs life to slow down and conversations to turn congenial and pleasant. With each course the body and spirit are fed, restoring the whole person. By evening’s end worldly stresses have drifted away and diners leave the table with a sense of peaceful calm.
Poets and comedians often joke about neighbors and their quirky habits, but getting to know your neighbors over a meal can be a real joy. Some neighborhoods even plan regular gatherings once or twice a year. A summer picnic with games, music and shared food is a favorite. It takes only one person to provide the spark that starts a neighborhood tradition. Emails are shared, foods and themes planned, and along the way, neighbors get to know each other.
Jesus tells us the world is our neighbor. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” Matthew 22:36–40 NIV.
Breaking bread with neighbors is an opportunity to extend Christian hospitality while building community. People you only knew as the guy next door, the kid who’s always bouncing the ball or the woman who walks a little brown dog become real and important. Everyone has a name and a story to be shared.
One meal filled with fun and laughter has the power to create bonds that may grow into lasting friendships, to calm the stressed and overworked, to ease a broken heart and lift the spirits of those facing illness and loss. Add another plate to the table and you become the Good Samaritan. Give the gift of showing guests Christ simply by your love.
Make It Easy
To get the party started, set out a bucket of iced drinks, above center, and a tray of artisan cheeses, fresh fruits and crackers, above right.
A make-ahead Green Bean and Asparagus Salad, above left, comes together fast. Trim ends of fresh beans and asparagus, blanch in boiling water 1½ to 2 minutes for beans and 2 to 4 minutes for asparagus. Immediately plunge into ice water to pop their beautiful green color. Add cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and sliced roasted red peppers. Top with garlic-infused olive oil.
Set up a DIY pizza station, above center and right. Provide dough, fresh herbs and toppings, cheeses and sauce. Pizza dough mix comes together in minutes, just add water. Pat into rectangles. Brush olive oil on one side of dough and place oil-side down on grill, on medium-high heat. Brush top with olive oil. Flip when dough is browned and let each guest add their favorite toppings. Close grill, turn heat to low and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Hosting With Grace
You may never know the reason you’re called to serve neighbors, but simply offering a peaceful meal and lighthearted conversation can be a healing balm. Whether you’re hosting alone or sharing the responsibility, this is not the time for preaching—this is a time to show Christ’s quiet and genuine love through hospitality.
- Casual Setting: Don’t stress over the tabletops. White dishes and a washable white tablecloth or runner (fabric or a new flat bed sheet work well and can be folded to fit) are crisp-looking and can be used over and over.
- Care for Guests: Truly care about guests’ physical and emotional well-being and everyone will feel welcome at your table. Be alert that all your guests have enough to drink and eat. Consider their physical comfort: if it gets chilly, offer a sweater, a jacket or throws.
- Be a Host: Remember to have a good time. If you’re at ease and relaxed your guests will be too. Encourage conversation with a few well-placed questions if the group doesn’t engage easily. If conversation becomes uncomfortable, gently steer it to inclusive, uplifting topics.
- Ask for Help: If you invite several people, recruiting a few or all of the diners to help make a salad, grill pizzas or set the table helps break the ice. They’ll chat and get to know each other over a shared purpose.
- Comfortable Seats: Provide comfortable chairs or benches that encourage relaxation. Chairs repurposed from the dining room or kitchen work well. Ask neighbors to bring a lawn chair for outdoor gatherings.
- Drinks: Serve tasty and refreshing fruit punch, lemonade, iced tea or a variety of soft drinks or waters. For cold nights, offer hot coffee or cocoa. Avoid alcoholic drinks. The negatives outweigh the positives.
- Easy Prep Foods: Fresh ingredients make the best meals. Place a cheese and fruit tray on the table. Offer salads with self-serve dressings, and simple side dishes. Set up a station for DIY burgers or pizzas where guests can help prepare their own main course. Dessert can be bakery cakes or ingredients for making s’mores or fruit skewers on the grill.