(EDITOR’S NOTE: Faith Matters is a column written by the social concerns committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County. The monthly feature will include local faith-based comment on significant social issues facing us today. Letters reacting to the columns should be brief and clear and may be submitted to Opinions expressed in the columns are those of the writers and the social concerns committee, not necessarily the Sun-Gazette.)

Looking through pictures last weekend I was surprised by the number of times people were pictured gathered in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. Both family and friends found their way there for meals, games, visits, chores and homework. Multiple generations were busy caring for one another and learning from one another.

Another place I find a great mix of people is our United Churches Food Pantry. I always enjoy mingling and watching as relationships are built around the grocery carts. While people are busy choosing items from our shelves that best will help them feed their families for the next month struggles and accomplishments often are shared. Pictures often are shown of special events; and insights and encouragements are given for the days ahead. But it is the spirit of this place that stands out in my mind. Some would think it would be a spirit of need and desperation but that is not so. It is a spirit of wanting to be of assistance, of volunteering, that is contagious in this place. Everybody is willing to go the extra mile to help someone at the pantry…

Some folks come in early for their appointments and help to sort the plastic bags and double them so they are ready to put food in.

Volunteers sometimes stay longer than scheduled because they get caught up in what is going on. There always is a willingness to help someone get their groceries home or to their car or to help someone bringing in with a delivery.

Spring also is the beginning of a wonderful time of connection in our neighborhoods. I like to sit on my front porch. It’s the place from which I watch over my neighborhood when Truffles (my dog) and I aren’t out for our walks. Folks smile and wave as they go by and sometimes stop and chat a bit.

Places like these are what I like to think of as special spaces, where we feel welcome and where people are concerned about each other and care for each other. I define them as sacred spaces when everyone who comes is welcomed and cared for in the same way.

Many stories remind us how important hospitality is. Our ancestors in faith often were a nomadic people, traveling from place to place, dependent on the hospitality of strangers. There are many stories of Jesus as he traveled through Galilee, reaching out to those who were lonely or outcasts. On one occasion he urged a tax collector named Zacchaeus to come down out of a tree where he’d perched to see Jesus, and went to his house for dinner. On another, he felt healing power go out from him as a woman who had been bleeding for many years touched the hem of his cloak. Jesus turned and listened to her story and told her that her faith had made her well.

I hope you enjoy the special spaces of your lives, and feel cherished and welcomed. But most important, remember that our faith calls us to be sure that our special spaces become sacred spaces, where everyone is welcome and will feel cherished and cared for.

– Bernstine is the executive director of United Churches of Lycoming County.