By Barb Arland-Fye
Abraham welcomed traveling strangers to his home and fed them the choicest steer; substitute the story’s protagonist with clergy and lay people in Rapid City, S.D., and the menu with buffalo and pork loin. Scripture speaks of hospitality as a virtue, which the Rapid City Diocese demonstrated famously toward visitors in town for the ordination of Bishop Robert Gruss, a priest of the Davenport Diocese.
Tables were elegantly set for a pre-Vespers dinner on July 27, the eve of his ordination as the Rapid City Diocese’s new bishop. High school and college students, business executives, priests, deacons and diocesan staff escorted visitors to their tables and waited on them during dinner — always with a smile. Buffalo was the entrée that evening, which makes sense since we were in buffalo country. And no one was offended when I asked for a plate sans buffalo.
The Vespers Service provided another dimension of hospitality as groups and individuals from the Rapid City Diocese and the community presented gifts to Bishop-elect Gruss while two priests provided a synopsis of each gift’s symbolism. Members of the Lakota tribe presented a hand-made star quilt on which the bishop-elect would prostrate himself during the ordination ritual the following day. The quilt could also be used as an altar cloth or for any number of purposes the recipient would choose.
Laurie Hallstrom and Becky Berreth, editor and assistant editor respectively of the West River Catholic diocesan newspaper, invited me to tag along with them as we all shot photographs of the Vespers service inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the following day at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Arena for the ordination. They generously offered to share photos and didn’t express any impatience as I limped along with a toe infection. If they missed any Kodak moments because of me, they kept that information to themselves.
Still another dimension of the diocese’s hospitality was the genuine warmth and enthusiasm the assembly expressed during the Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Gruss. They gave him a standing ovation when he was seated as bishop in an arena that diocesan staff, parishioners and others had painstakingly transformed into a makeshift cathedral to accommodate the crowd.
Visitors who planned to stay overnight after Bishop Gruss’ ordination were invited to a buffet dinner in Blessed Sacrament Parish Hall, the same place the pre-Vespers dinner had been served. Again, the tables were elegantly set; “waiters” (including one wearing a Roman collar and apron) offered wine and coffee and filled a request for milk from my husband. All of us who participated in any of the ordination events and dinners were treated like family.
Bishop Gruss pointed out the hospitality and graciousness of the people of the Rapid City Diocese in a brief speech at the post-ordination dinner. Their warm welcome of him two months ago, during the official announcement of his appointment as their bishop, put him at peace about his decision to say “yes.” He encouraged all his guests to return to Rapid City “for the beauty of the land and the people.”
In his Letter to the Hebrews, Paul advises: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”
The people of the Rapid City Diocese made us feel like those angels.