How you can welcome people
The command to love your neighbour extends to everybody who lives near you and everybody you meet in the six days between attending church.’ 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. We want to find ways of creating bridges of trust.
How might you welcome people in?
- A simple Hello can make a big difference. Inviting people to an event our into our homes may come more naturally to some than others, but it can make a huge difference to someone who is new here.
- Acknowledge people verbally and non-verbally; smile and say ‘hello’.
- Ask and learn people’s names, including the correct pronunciation and name preference.
- Invite people; a personal invitation is the most effective invitation. Offer to accompany people; events and activities are much easier to go to with company.
- Speak slowly, clearly and calmly. Use plain English, avoid jargon and colloquialisms.
- Initially it may be appropriate to talk more than ask questions. People who are learning a language always understand more than they can say.
- 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 in church with a phrase or two in their own language.
How might you help new people feel at home?
- The settling in process begins with people feeling safe, understanding their new surroundings and accessing key services. Your friendship can help people through these early days of settling.
- Help people by showing them where they can access local services and support. Be prepared to provide information, if asked, on local services and facilities (schools, GPs, language classes etc). But refrain from giving technical advice (see below).
- To feel truly at home, people should no longer sense that they are a guest who has to be looked after but more like a family member who participated by giving of themselves as well as receiving. Encourage newcomers to participate in church life formally and informally.
- Notice and celebrate the uniqueness, gift and qualities of other people. Everyone has a unique contribution to make and needs to feel comfortable in order to contribute.
- Encourage opportunities for people to share something of their background and culture informally (food, music, way of life).
- Make efforts to improve cultural and ethnic awareness in your church
- Respect and allow for cultural differences, be flexible, open to doing things in different ways
The use of church premises and other resources
Many churches make their buildings, facilities and the skills of their members available to other groups in the local community. These are some suggestions as to how our churches can, and are being used to welcome our new neighbours:
- Working with others on a welcome pack for new residents
- Drop-in centres giving people the chance to integrate
- Parent and toddler groups for refugees or the families of migrant workers
- After-school clubs, helping incoming children to adjust to differences in our education system
- Language and conversation classes
- Advice centres for newcomers run by (for example) Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB).
- Recreational facilities for minority-ethnic groups
Do not attempt to give technical advice on immigration, as you could be breaking the law in doing so. This could include assistance with form filling. Instead, people needing advice should be encouraged to ring one of the Law Centre advice lines Belfast (028) 90244401 or Derry/ Londonderry (028) 71262433 or visit their local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). This is equally true of people who may have been trafficked or who have no authorisation to be here. Poor advice could put someone in danger. Advice is available from the Law Centre NI (https://lawcentreni.org).
- You can 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. Click here for a list of such groups.
- You can donate goods, volunteer assistance and/or financial support to other charities such as minority ethnic support organisations and foodbanks. Click here for a list of such groups.
Have a look at the many resources available on our website for more information and ideas: Embrace Resources