What does hospitality mean to you? A formal dinner party, with candles glowing, silver place settings? A cookout with a collection of neighbors?… For Beth Edgar, the wife of Bishop Chip Edgar, it means an open door and a place to stay. In addition to friends and family, they’ve hosted visiting bishops, international speakers, clergy from other dioceses, families seeking medical treatment. Their front door is so open they had about 50 overnight guests in the first three months they lived in the Bishop’s residence. Sound extreme? It did to me, so on April 6, 2023 Beth and I sat down in her in her sunny kitchen, with Wrigley, their Viszla, resting nearby and we talked hospitality. (Joy Hunter, Director of Communications)
Fifty guests in three months. That’s a lot of guests! Does hospitality come naturally to you? How did you and the bishop get started?
Chip and I both grew up in houses that practiced hospitality. When we came together it was never, “Do you want to do this?’’ It was just the natural thing you do. We had similar backgrounds in terms of how we do it. Our parents were very involved in Christian ministries and church. So, it definitely has its root in Christian ministry, for both of us.
What does hospitality look like for the Edgars?
It’s mostly opening our home. I don’t really do meals for people. I’ll set up coffee and usually breakfast stuff or some fruit and muffins. But if I had to prepare a meal every time somebody stayed with us, we would not be having people in nearly as much. That, to me, is stressful.
Is it mostly friends staying with you or people you know?
A lot of them are. Some are friends of friends. The people in the carriage house right now aren’t people we knew. A priest in the diocese called and said the brother of one of their church members had to be life-flighted to MUSC. So that family came and stayed for a week. But the family in there now are once removed from that family, in a similar situation. The man had to have heart surgery.
So you sometimes open up to complete strangers?
Yes. A priest will call and say, “There’s somebody in my church who needs it.” Or in Columbia, where we did not have a carriage house, we often hosted musicians through the University of South Carolina. We probably had, I don’t know, about 20 people in and out of here last year for Spoleto (the Charleston Arts Festival). That’s a lot of people to have in your home! It would overwhelm me!
I feel like people make it a bigger deal, which then makes it a little scary. But there are lots of different ways to show hospitality. For us, it’s just been easy and natural and fun to have people in our home.
Some would say, “I’d rather not have people in my house, but I’ll take people a meal or I’ll pick something up.” I have a friend who stops by every once in a while and drops off some flowers or a little something I mentioned. That’s her way of showing hospitality.
Hospitality is just showing love to people. It doesn’t have to mean having a big dinner party or having people in your house. I think we need to look outside that. It’s broader than that. We all have different gifts, we all have different means, we all have different personalities. Taking an interest in people is showing hospitality. Do you adjust your schedule to spend time with every guest that comes in? No. Some guests, yes. But not every guest. Coffee will be on in the morning, and I have everything set out for breakfast when people are here, on a tray. I even have little cards I keep in the drawer that say “Vanilla Creamer” and “Half and Half.”
The first night you stay here, you get the cute little signs and all that, and then, and you can ask Ken Weldon for backup on this, the second day, it’s, “Morning! The coffee is over there, and I bet you can find the cream. It’s in the fridge.”
One thing Ken Weldon told me his mom always said was, “If you treat people like guests, they’ll feel like guests and act like guests. If you treat them like family, they’ll feel like family.” I really like that. It frees you up from thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to have everything just right.”
Do you ever get tired of having people over?
Hardly ever. And I wondered if I would, because we’ve had so much company. About five months ago I said to Chip, “This really doesn’t bother me at all, having people in and out.” I thought it would start to wear on me.” I have thought it might be nice to have somebody come in to clean once in a while.
You don’t have anybody come in to clean? It’s a huge house!
It is a huge house. And I would like to have somebody at some point, maybe when the girls are out of college. It doesn’t really get that dirty. And nobody’s looking at the floor. I mean, I certainly don’t do that when I go to somebody else’s house. I don’t care if it’s not particularly clean or if they’re feeding me hot dogs. I’m just happy to be there. Think about how you feel. It’s really not about that. It’s about being with those people. That’s why you’re there.
What gives you joy in offering hospitality?
All the great people we’ve gotten to meet over the years. One time our church in Chicago asked if J.I. Packer could spend the weekend with us and come preach at our church. That led to him spending weekends at our house four times a year for years. We also had Ken Boa stay in our carriage house recently . I didn’t know him before, but I’m a huge fan now.
What about having just family time?
I try to be mindful of that. If all our kids are going to be together and we haven’t been together for a year, well, maybe we don’t invite somebody else to Easter dinner that year, but our kids are so used to it. This past Easter my friend Cheryl texted and said, “Hey, is it still okay for Addison to come for Easter dinner?” And I said, “Yes, Addison can absolutely come! But remind me. Who is Addison?” He was her oldest son’s former roommate, and he was going to be in Charleston by himself for Easter.
I always told my kids when they were younger, “Just be an includer, just include people.” And something I learned when I had my second baby was that love always multiplies, it never divides. We found that, too, with hosting people and having an open home. It doesn’t ever take away. That’s not to say there aren’t times when we need an evening just the two of us, but love multiplies. It doesn’t divide. And it’s taken me some years to really learn that.
Any more tips for us?
Love people. Lower your expectations of yourself.
When we lived in Chicago, there was an older couple at our church. I think she’s about 98 now. So when we were there, they were in their late 70’s and they had people in and out of their house, staying for a couple of months, family, friends, friends of a friend who needed a place to stay. If you went to their house to eat, you’d often have sandwiches. They kept everything really simple. But they just loved having people. And once when we were at their house, we said to them, “You’re 78. How are you still doing this?”
And she looked at me and thought for a minute and said, “Well, I guess we’ve never stopped.” I think that’s like a lot of things, if you just keep doing it, it’s your normal. I think that’s a big part of it. Chip and I have just always done it. We’ve kept doing it, and hopefully we’ll be 78 or 88 and still doing it.