‘The heart of Christianity is hospitality’
Jean Varnier in ‘Something Understood’, BBC Radio 4, Palm Sunday, 2009
In 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. Christians are not just called to be welcoming within their congregations but also within their private lives and in how they act as part of the wider community.
‘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.
‘People deprived of familiar rootedness in family, culture, tradition and geography deserve the next best thing, which is welcome, hospitality and compassionate concern in their new environment.’ Paul Surlis, ‘Exile’, The Furrow, April 2000, (reproduced in Inter-Cultural Insights)
‘Some of the strangers we welcome will eventually go home and, depending on the welcome they receive from us, will become involved in the life of the churches in their own home areas. … But some of those strangers will stay on in Ireland, and will contribute greatly to the social, cultural, political, economic and religious life of this island, their children will marry our children, and their grandchildren will be our grandchildren. In welcoming strangers we will soon discover we are bringing angels into our churches and into our families’. Patrick Comerford, Embracing Difference: the Church of Ireland in a Plural Society, p.80.
‘Before Hlaleleni from Zimbabwe described the hell of racist abuse she had been put through in an estate in East Belfast, I felt emotionally detached from the problem of racism. After hearing her story of windows smashed, doors kicked in and dog’s dirt shovelled in piles on her doorstep, I changed.’
‘Become more socially inclusive… Open your heart and your home … There is nothing more powerful than your neighbours seeing you enjoy the friendship of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds.’
Rt Rev. Dr Ken Newell, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; From Lion & Lamb: Racism and Religious Liberty, Autumn 2004.