The Economy of Hospitality
After spending another weekend traveling for professional reasons, it occurs to me that hospitality is currency for those who are not in the lucrative professions.
Let me try to explain.
If I had traveled, say, as the keynote speaker to a corporate convention, I would have flown first class, stayed in swanky, sterile hotel rooms, expensed every bit of food and drink that passed my lips, and been whisked from place to place in a car with a driver.
But that's not the life I've chosen; nor is it the life I want. I am not a corporate bigwig. I am a minister and therefore a servant. It's really, really hard for this Material Girl to remember that. All that affluence in my formative years doesn't help. But still, I try. As Howard Thurman wrote, "Keep before me the moments of my high resolve."
What I did this weekend was travel to an ordination at the request of one called to the ministry from out of our congregations -- someone I worked with when he was a lay leader and someone I love and care about. He asked me to preach the sermon, and I accepted the honor.
I searched for low fares on Expedia.com. I left sufficient kibble in the bowl for the cat, drove my 8-year old Honda to the airport an hour away and parked in remote parking (cheaper). I ate a ham and cheese sandwich between flights and God only knows where that receipt might be. I made sure to pack a small enough suitcase so that I could carry it on to all the flights.
Friends picked me up from the airport. We had wonderful $5 bowls of pho for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. They bought me dinner, kept me up with beers and delightful conversation (no, wait- I kept them up) until 11:00 pm, and fed me breakfast the next morning. I slept in their comfortable guest room.
The next morning one of my friends delivered me at the appointed hour to a local church, where I preached the morning service. For that, I received $150 (the sermon was one I'd given before, and I spent between 3-4 hours revamping it, preparing the other words I would say in the service, and talking on the phone with the lay liturgist). I was taken out to lunch afterward by a friend and colleague.
I took a nap, shook the wrinkles out of my next outfit, and had a shower at home of same friend and colleague before the afternoon service. I arrived back at the church, participated in the ordination service (the sermon had taken something between 8 to 10 hours to write), and had dinner afterward with more friends and colleagues. Total cost: $20.00. Two beers and bratwurst.
Because I am terrified of tiny planes, I hitched a ride with good friends (some of the ministerial colleagues who had been at the service) to their house a couple of hours away near my hub airport, which would save me the terror of climbing on a tiny prop plane the next day. Their invitation to come home with them was instant, genuine and enthusiastic. I stayed up talking until about 1:00 a.m., was nourished by the company and the big glasses of water we drank (it had been so hot in the church that I soaked through my clothes and made puddles in my shoes), and slept until 10:00 a.m. next morning. Upon rising, I had friends to talk with, their fresh coffee to drink and their biscuits and eggs to eat, and a comfortable backyard to sit in and listen to the birds. I knew the house, as it had been previously inhabited by a dear mentor and his wife. Therefore, the very house felt like a friend.
I was driven to the airport in good company, got on my flight, picked up my car, paid about $40 for parking, and drove myself home.
The total cost of the trip was something like $500. The so called "profit" from the trip was the $150 preaching fee (minus a few ham sandwiches, some bottles of Dasani water, a bag of Doritos, and about $10 worth of tips). The hidden "cost" was giving up a few days of vacation, and of course the great labor of composing the sermon.
In corporate America, the same trip may have cost a company close to $4000 (airfare, driver, meals, hotel). The keynote speaker would have been paid at least that (maybe far more: what do I know?). The profit to the speaker, therefore, would have been thousands of dollars free and clear. The missing elements would have been: dinner and an overnight with 2 friends, the experience of meeting an entire congregation and sharing two emotionally bonding services with them, lunch with another friend, renewing ties with a beloved former congregant (now minister) and at least 8 other admired colleagues, having the honor of becoming a tiny part of the history of our religious Association (in that the Certificate of Ordination will be kept on file at our association headquarters), sharing the lore of my profession over a wonderfully rowdy dinner, and a subsequent "sleepover" with two favorite people. I like to think, also, that some of the sermon might make it into the folklore of our generation of ministers.
So who walks away richer after such a weekend? The corporate keynoter, or the minister?
It really depends on your definition of currency.