Some guests think that our guestbook is an odd tradition. They politely sign it, commenting that it “must be a British thing,” or some other remark that lets us know that this is weird for them. Others think it’s great, and flip back through the pages to see if they know anyone else, reading comments from previous guests.
The guestbook is something we started years ago, and it has helped us be better hosts. Here are a few ways it has helped our hospitality—three reasons that you might want to start your own.
It helps us keep track of our guests. How did he spell his name? What were the kids’ names again? How long has it been since we had them over? Did that couple have the same last name, or did they write down two different ones? I can’t keep all of that in my head after one busy visit; a guestbook helps me keep track of guests’ details. Before the next time we have them over, I can open it up and double check things that I’ve lost since last time.
It identifies patterns in our hospitality: Like every other area of life, it’s easy to fall into a rut when practicing hospitality. A guestbook can help identify those ruts. When we page through ours and see that we’ve only had family and friends over for a while, we know that we need to invite strangers next. If all the signatures are from church family, then we need to have someone from work or another congregation for a meal. Are there old people, young people, families, singles, and widows in there? Or are we gravitating to one demographic? When we move, we can look back and see how soon after the last move we had guests: was that wise, or do we need to do things differently this time? The last time family came over for a weekend, what did we do with them? The same thing as the time before? Maybe we should scout out something new in town for them. Hopefully, our guestbook makes our hospitality more balanced and skillful.
It reminds us of times of fellowship<. Hospitality is unpredictable because people are unpredictable, especially when they are strangers. It can be tiring and time consuming. But flipping back through our guestbook brings home the realization of what a blessing it is. There is the pastor and his wife whom we didn’t know, but who came for breakfast and encouraged us. There is the single student, here for his first Thanksgiving away from home. That’s when our parents came to meet the new baby. And several pages have notes I can’t read, from people who could not yet write in English. In a long list, there are the teenaged girls who came for a party and stayed to clean out my basement. We have had crazy visits, disaster visits, stressful visits, funny visits, sad visits, and a lot of blessed times with saints from all over. There are painful reminders in our guestbook, but many more wonderful memories. We have entertained angels unawares. Occasionally, I take out the guestbook to remind myself of all the people whom God has brought into our lives through so many ways, and to marvel at the little slice of the church that we’ve been privileged to host. It encourages us to keep up having people over.
We don’t ask every guest to sign the book, but we do try and make a habit of it (the children even had one sitter sign it). Who wouldn’t want a record of the stream of people God placed in their lives? “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Ps. 16:3).