Bluegrass as Hospitality

Matt Potter

Radical Joy

Catholic Stewardship and Abundance

There are four pillars upon which Catholic stewardship rests: Hospitality, prayer, formation and service. Today, let’s talk about hospitality.

St. Benedict put hospitality in his Rule when he instructed his monks to welcome all visitors as though they were Christ himself. Today, we have parishioners at the church doors on Sundays to welcome visitors and hand them a missalette and/or a songbook, while greeting them with “good morning.”

However, hospitality is far more than pleasantries. “Good morning” is nice, but our actions beyond that really show how hospitable we are. Let me share with you a recent experience about embracing hospitality.

I have written in this space about my love of many kinds of music. Over the last few years, I have grown to really appreciate one kind in particular – bluegrass. 

It’s not that I don’t like other kinds of music; but bluegrass is layered in various levels of complexity and skill, making it both accessible and challenging to the musician, and interesting to the listener. 

We recently made the short drive to Owensboro, Kentucky, to visit the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum. We had tickets for a concert there that evening, so we went early; going through the museum in the afternoon seemed like a good idea. 

The museum is fascinating, but there is a unique event that takes place there every Saturday and Sunday afternoon – what’s called an open jam. Musicians just show up and sit in a circle in the “jam room,” and play together, trading songs and telling stories. All skill levels are welcome, and they really mean that. There is no charge to play in or listen to the music, so when musicians are playing, there are people sitting in chairs along the room’s walls.

Before we left for Owensboro, I had thought about bringing a guitar with me to join in the jam, but I decided to leave it at home. The case is big and heavy, and I didn’t want to lug it around with me. Plus, it was going to be hot that day, and leaving a guitar in a hot car is not a great idea.

The jam room is right near the building entrance. As we walked in, I could see the wall in the room was filled with instruments. There were guitars, fiddles, banjos, dobros, mandolins and a stand-up bass. Now, I don’t know much about the other instruments, but I quickly noticed that the guitars were all Martins.  Martin guitars are ubiquitous to bluegrass music, and I thought these were displays of guitars played by famous musicians. Then, I saw someone take one down and start playing.

I was horrified! How could someone have the nerve to grab a display guitar and just play it? Martin guitars are treasured instruments whose owners will often specifically include the guitars in their wills. But I soon learned that just anyone could take down one of the six Martin guitars – or one of the banjos, dobros, fiddles or mandolins – and play it. 

So, I grabbed one for myself and joined in with several other musicians. It was a wonderful time playing a truly great instrument that was not mine.

I relate this story to you not to advertise for the museum, but to talk about hospitality. When we were buying our museum entrance tickets, we were greeted by a very friendly staff member. She immediately struck up a conversation with us and created a relationship where none had been before. It felt like we were just welcomed into her home.

It wasn’t just us, either. The people who were in line ahead of us and behind us were treated the same way. This woman came by hospitality easily and genuinely. 

The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a fine example of hospitality, the first pillar of stewardship. They treated us and everyone else there as family, showing trust and care in allowing us to use, without qualification or cost, their finest possessions.

Our guests, whether they are in our homes or our parishes, honor us by being with us. We acknowledge that by treating them as we would treat Christ himself. That is Catholic stewardship.

As always, thanks for reading. I would love to hear from you. Write to me at [email protected].