Our Parish Nurse, Ann Yeo, has been thinking about two separate issues that have recently arisen in our congregation; and she has realized that the two issues share a commonality. The issues are:

  • How do we respond to those among us with multiple chemical sensitivities?
  • How do we respond to those among us with non-mainstream dietary needs?

The commonality here is the practice of hospitality.

Hospitality in a UU congregation has been defined this way, by David Rynick, author of “The Spiritual Practice of Hospitality” (UU World Magazine, Summer 2007): “Practicing hospitality is an individual work of intentional action, action that creates the quality of relationships in our church that will nourish newcomers and longtime members alike.”

The first issue, that several members of our congregation have multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), was addressed by the Rev. Carol McKinley in a guest sermon on 12 Jan. 2020, entitled “Invisible Disabilities.” We heard about the physical burden (for those with MCS) of adverse effects from the cloud of chemical scents that may emanate from personal-care products, cleaning products, and scented candles; and we heard a plea to drastically reduce our use of scented products that may adversely affect some other folks’ ability to participate in congregational life.

The second issue, that a significant minority of our members have non-mainstream dietary needs (such as vegetarian, gluten intolerance, or dairy intolerance), was aired at a recent community potluck dinner for those interested in participating in the smaller Friendship Dinners. Some voiced frustrations were heard from past dinner hosts whose guests could not eat this or that. Other than the suggestion that guests with non-mainstream dietary needs should bring something that they can eat, no other mutual solutions (for hosts and guests) were explored at that time, although back and forth communication was of course encouraged.

Both these issues carry the real potential that some of us who want to participate fully in this religious community may in fact not feel fully welcome here. The solution may lie in our individual practice of hospitality: Our intentional actions create the quality of relationships that nourish newcomers and longtime members alike. We go the extra mile to meet someone else’s needs and make them feel cared-for; and we feel good that we have done it. It’s a win-win!

-Ann Yeo, RN, MSN, Certified Holistic Nurse