Kari Jo Cates on Hospitality
Not many people I know have evaded Kari Jo Cates’ famed hospitality. She’s an anchor to her community on the Upper West Side of New York City and her family’s townhouse is a cozy respite from urban life, a place to share a bite, talk, and process life together. Mrs. Cates is truly the essence of a ‘professional neighbor;’ constantly seeking out ways to show up for her friends and neighbors and setting a strong example for how to live intentionally with others.
One sweaty Sunday in June I sat with her over coffee and doughnuts in Chelsea to hear her thoughts on hospitality and her encouragement to young adults in this cultural moment.
Tell me about your history in the city and your unique living situation.
We moved to the City in 1996 as newlyweds for Cory to begin his PhD at Columbia University. After a few years of conversations with a couple we met our first Sunday at Redeemer (Presbyterian Church) and looking at available properties, we were able to purchase and gut-renovate an 1890's townhouse on west 70th street where we've lived in community together for the past 15+ years; the entire ethos of the building is ministry and hospitality.
How do you define hospitality?
I think of hospitality as being home together. As Christians, our home is in Christ. So anytime we are with another Christian, we’re inherently home.
And because we carry this treasure, this incarnate gospel of Jesus Christ, in our physical bodies, we’re carrying a sense of home with us where we go.
Wherever you and I go today, we can welcome others with the welcome we’ve received from Him; reminding each other how valuable, loved, and unique we are, listening to and being present for each other - these are some of the ordinary practices of hospitality God calls me to with my family, neighbors, and community.
What drives your intentionality in loving your community? How do you have the energy for this?
In order to genuinely love others, I know I need to be close to and rested in Christ not only for myself, but also so I have the margin to show up for others. I need to regularly remember Christ’s vibrant, life-giving love for me. When I remember that the is with me and he is for me, I want to welcome others into my life and into relationship. Practically, this means that I need to be careful with what I commit to so that there is room and margin for others, anticipating the unexpected and having the room to respond to what they need.
As far as what goes into loving on people practically, in this season of having a lot of teenagers in my apartment, I try to focus on the myriad of non-verbal ways to tell kiddos that I love them, hoping that they’ll eventually understand this translates that God loves them. Tasty food and plenty of it, drinks that they like, music and warm lighting, a place to hang and a sense of welcome; I want to communicate to all of their senses ‘you are loved just as you are.’
Wrapping up, based on our current culture and what you see in your children and others you interact with, do you have any words of wisdom you’d share with young adults right now?
Developing as a young human is hard but critical work. It seems like you're trying to figure out who you are, how you can perform and what you can produce. And our culture encourages you to think that - oy! I want you to know that the gospel is real and that Christ's work is complete. He is with you and He is for you. He loves you and invites you to live in freedom.
We adults need to walk alongside you and not pressure or imply to you that you need to 'maximize your potential' or boss you in any way. But to honor you and listen to you, to make room for you and to learn from you. I hope you will have the courage to be who He has created you to be, to be present with the people around you and to go with your affinities, opportunities and abilities. You can do it and we're behind and beside you.