Building a Welcoming Community

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Christian Response

Last updated 11/12/14
Celtic Blessing for Hospitality
I saw a stranger yestereen,
I put food in the eating place
Drink in the drinking place
Music in the listening place
And in the sacred name of the Triune
He blessed myself and my house
My cattle and my dear ones
As the lark said in her song ‘Often, often, often
Goes Christ in the stranger’s guise.’

Quoted in What the Bible says about the stranger by Kieran J O’Mahony OSA. The Churches’ Peace Education Programme, Irish Commission of Justice and Peace & Irish Council of Churches, Maynooth and Belfast, 1999.

I was a stranger and you welcomed me [Matt 25:35]

welcome[1]1.jpgChristian love should be at the heart of all our relationships. However, we are sometimes diffident when facing people from another culture or unsure of how to communicate welcome appropriately and sensitively across cultures.

Our response should be motivated and guided by what the Bible says about relationships with incomers and people who are different from us. The Christian welcome we give should be appropriate to the needs and resources in our own locality. Christian voices tell us the experience and heart cries of others who actively seek to welcome the stranger.

What the Bible says about welcoming outsiders

Last updated 11/12/14


Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13: 1–2

Some biblical sources:

Who is my neighbour? Luke 10 25–37
How to treat a foreigner Leviticus 19 33–34
How foreigners can be a blessing The book of Ruth
Justice love and fellowship Micah 6: 8
Treating others as we treat the Lord Matthew 25: 31–46
The gift of hospitality Hebrews 13: 2
Breaking down barriers Ephesians 2: 11–22
For full texts see: http://www.biblegateway.com/

See also Christian Voices


Last updated 11/12/14

‘The heart of Christianity is hospitality’
Jean Varnier in ‘Something Understood’, BBC Radio 4, Palm Sunday, 2009

‘When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’ [Leviticus 19:13]


welcome poster finalIn helping to build a welcoming community it is important not just to provide a welcome for newcomers but also to help existing populations to adjust to change. Culture shock is acute for people who have left their home country, but the arrival of numbers of people who are different can also cause a range of emotions from unease and fear to hostility and aggression in local people. It is part of Christian leadership to acknowledge all these emotions and needs, and to find ways of creating mutual understanding and fellowship.

See also
EMBRACE Resources
EMBRACE Toolkit for Churches
Contemporary Christianity p.s. blog No More Them and Us
Contemporary Christianity p.s. blog Racism and the Church in Ireland
Contemporary Christianity p.s. blog Come with Me: A Way of Welcome 

Building Welcoming Congregations

‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.’ Ephesians 2: 19

‘The authentic Christian community must always be asking, “Who is being excluded?” ’
Archbishop Rowan Williams quoted in Inter-Cultural Insights.

Richard Kerr of the Presbyterian Race Relations Panel and EMBRACE has the following suggestions:
‘Use initiative in exploring options. Find out what is appropriate in your situation and for those you meet. What works elsewhere may be a good pointer, but may well need adaptation for your situation and your gifts and resources.
Perseverance is an important attribute; if at first you don’t succeed try and try again. Some things may work, others (perhaps inexplicably) won’t.
It is important to network with other churches, statutory organisations and non-government organisations (NICEM, MCRC, Law Centre and ourselves in EMBRACE for example).
Commitment is required to make things happen and to build relationships. Within your congregation there will be a need to inform and persuade members and leaders of the importance of reaching out. This will inevitably demand patience.
Being involved may well involve risk; it will not necessarily be easy. Yet, the challenges and opportunities are there to be met, and provide us with an opportunity to share and show the love of Christ.’ Read more

Churches responses to immigration, asylum and racism

Research on church responses

Many churches have responded to the challenge of increased migration and diversity with warmth and imagination, but a 2009 survey of faith leaders and laity in Ireland, by Dr Gladys Glaniel of the Irish School of Ecumenics, reveals that such actions are patchy. The northern responses reveal that

  • 62% of lay people stated that there are immigrants or minority-ethnic people in their congregations.
  • 55% of clergy and faith leaders say that they have preached or taught on immigration, diversity or welcoming strangers in the last 12 months.
  • 44% of clergy, pastors, ministers, and faith leaders have never done anything to accommodate minority-ethnic people.
  • 19% said that the languages of minority-ethnic people had been used in services during the last 12 months. (This was more common under the heading ‘Other Christians’ which may well include migrant-led churches.)

‘We … asked clergy to provide examples of what they had done, that was out of the ordinary, to accommodate ethnic minorities. Examples included assisting with asylum claims/tribunal hearings, financial support for accommodation, education, transportation or other needs, assistance in finding jobs, translation of bibles, sermons, or other reading materials, providing English language classes, conducting open air religious services in areas where ethnic minorities live, visiting Chinese takeaways with religious materials, organising cultural evenings in which people share food and customs from their native lands; inviting ethnic minorities to take part in St Patrick’s Day celebrations; visiting their homes; organizing special welcoming committees or parish groups; encouraging prayer during worship services in native languages; using the music and dance from immigrants’ home countries in religious services; helping children settle into schools; use of church buildings, halls and car parks; and including special sections for newcomers on congregational websites. Some clergy remarked that such activities should not be considered out of the ordinary – for them, these were the ‘ordinary’ works of charity with which Christians should be engaged.’

Extract from the clergy leader survey.

Read more

Get Involved

‘The command to love your neighbour extends to everybody who lives near you and everybody you meet in the six days between attending church. … We should avoid thinking of ‘church’ as simply a ‘church’ building and instead think of ourselves as the active, committed people of God.’
Welcoming Angels, Dublin 2005, p. 40.

Many of us would love to get to know our new neighbours, helping them to adjust to new surroundings, and building more inclusive communities. We are concerned with the needs of people who have been forced to flee from their own countries. As change produces fear and suspicion, and there is an increase in overt racism, we want to find ways of creating bridges of trust. These are just a few ideas as to how to make a start:

Becoming a more welcoming congregation
  • Ensure that your church buildings are welcoming from the outside, with clear signs.
  • Language is very important, and it is helpful if people can be greeted with a phrase or two in their own language.
  • Encourage newcomers to participate, for example, in reading a lesson or taking up the collection/ offertory.
  • Include some aspect of the worship tradition from the country of origin, such as a song or a prayer.
  • Invite members of minority ethnic Christian groups to take part in special services.
  • Hold special services for example, in Refugee Week, Anti-Racism Sunday, or Holocaust Memorial Day, and invite members of minority groups to speak or attend.
  • Could your premises be use for a drop-in centre to help people settle in, or host a mother and toddler group, recreation centre (sport or culture) for minority ethnic groups, English language classes, or an advice centre?
  • Work with others on a welcome pack for new residents.
Increasing cultural and ethnic awareness
  • Encourage racial awareness and anti-racism training in your congregation or area.
  • Hold celebration meals such as harvest suppers where you might invite people from a minority ethnic group to cook for you.
  • Celebrate festivals such as Chinese New Year.
  • Visit cultural centres together. For example, people from a rural background, anywhere in the world, will find something in common at somewhere like the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
  • Visit the cultural centres of minority ethnic communities – such as the Indian Community Centre in Belfast, to learn, and to affirm their presence as part of a shared society.
  • Learn about other people’s religious beliefs and practices by hosting an exhibition, visiting religious centres, or inviting members of other faiths to explain their religious beliefs.
  • Find ways of celebrating and honouring the achievement of individuals and groups from minority ethnic populations in your community.
  • Use any forum, inter-church groups, Community Safety Groups, District Policing Partnerships, to make sure that even minor acts of racism are taken seriously.
Some practical things you might do personally or in a group
  • Pray for the work of EMBRACE and the building of a more welcoming community.
  • Invite people from minority ethnic backgrounds to your home.
  • Learn as much as you can about the issues surrounding immigration, asylum and racism so that you can counter myths and stereotyping.
  • Join EMBRACE so that we can help to keep you informed about facts and issues.
  • Compile a dossier about racist incidents in your area and share this with community and congregational leaders.
  • Let EMBRACE know about the good and the bad news from your local area – in congregations and in the community.
  • Consider training in order to volunteer to teach English as a second language, become an adult literacy tutor, volunteer as a translator, or teach computer literacy.
  • Undertake race awareness or cultural diversity training.
  • Volunteer with other groups or forums such as the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS), or Red Cross, and welcoming initiatives such as the Belfast Friendship Club.
  • Contribute to the EMBRACE emergency fund or the ongoing work of EMBRACE.
  • Donate goods, volunteer assistance and/or financial support to other charities such as minority ethnic support organisations and foodbanks.

For some further ideas keep an eye on the web site for forthcoming events and appeals.