Tag Archives: welcome

16 September: A Warm Winnipeg Welcome

From Wikipedia

 

Our daughter invited us to the open air theatre to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As always, the players found new angles in the text that had not occurred to me. But as the bats flickered overhead, I was transported back to 1977, the year Elvis died, the year of ‘A Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille’, and my summer in L’Arche Edmonton. Hold on! You were watching Bottom, Titania and all the mixed up parties in the woods of Athens! But there were bats at an open air play in Canada, too.

I’d arrived in Ontario, visiting former L’Arche Kent assistants, but was now taking the Greyhound bus across Canada to Alberta. After riding past Lake Superior and the start of the prairies, I was in Winnipeg, tired and dirty and very hungry. This was before we had international debit cards so my money was in traveller’s cheques which I could not exchange as the banks were closed. After setting aside the coins for a phone call I had less than a dollar to spare.

‘Hi Maurice, we didn’t know what time to expect you! Just stay there by the bus station, we’re all coming into town to watch Fiddler on the Roof.’ I was still hungry, but had just enough cash to buy the cheapest dish on the restaurant window menu – the chef’s salad. It was a good bowlful but did not convert me to veganism!

L’Arche Winnipeg and I found each other. I was taken into the arms of the community at once; tiredness disappeared in the drama of the show. I regretted not being able to stay longer but I had time to visit the farm and help harvest the first sweetcorn, the sweetest I ever tasted.

Maize growing.

I heard a few people’s stories before leaving for Edmonton. To an Englishman the name Portage la Prairie suggested early voyageurs making their way through uncharted lakes, but it had a big hospital like those that our founders came from. Read two L’Arche Winnipeg stories here. 

It was good to see L’Arche growing in an environment completely different to rural Kent, and to be treated like ‘one of us’. And it’s good to see from their website that the community is still active and contributing to their neighbourhood. 

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26 August: L’Arche pilgrimage II; you have something

L’Arche on pilgrimage to Canterbury.

A friend of L’Arche underlines the qualities of life shared in community rather than in a relationship of caring versus being cared for.

“I promise you, you have something….
“The depth of compassion for one another, 
the depth of simplicity,
the depth of openness, love and welcome that exists in L'Arche: 
no-one has it – no one.
“You are the living communities of peace. 
You are the living example and role model
 of what I believe the world is hungry for.”

“L’Arche has a simple message for our time: 
focus on relationships.
“Welcome the poor and the rejected. 
Create communities where relationships are the highest priority. 
Create communities where each person’s gift is valued and celebrated. 
Welcome the least 
and as a result, 
discover the best in all."

Tim Shriver, Disability Rights Activist and Chair of the Special
Olympics Committee
In L'Arche 

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14 August: Pushing the boundaries.

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A spire of hollyhocks at St Mary’s.

While Mrs T took our grandson to the swimming pool in Faversham, I wandered the streets. I took myself to St Mary of Charity church for the first time in years. Although the tower with its ornate spire stands out for miles around, especially on the marshes, it could easily be missed close to, with the approach to the West Front through a narrow canyon of a back street behind a supermarket.

Once there I saw clumps of hollyhocks, some well over 2 metres tall, along the iron fence between the churchyard graves and the path. Lovely in the group, lovely each spire and individual bloom, and nature’s way of pushing the boundaries between tame and wild.

The church yard would be tidier without them but something better than tidiness would be lost. The ancestry of these blooms must be quite diverse – white, cream, yellow, apricot and magenta – but they also probably derive from a small number of parent plants, their seed blown around town till it found soil to root into. What were the great-grandparents like?

Let’s be thankful for beauty in diversity, in humans as well as flowers, and let us strive to make everyone welcome in our church communities.

Let us also take courage and find our own ways to push the boundaries in favour of beauty and of our climate.

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16 July: My Vocation today XIX, welcome!

Pope Francis has been proclaiming the important place of old people. The wisdom of his teaching has come home to me – quite literally – recently.

Home. My mother is in her nineties and lives some distance away from us in Canterbury. During the pandemic we did not visit, and local visitors were talking to her from the back door, so it was good for both sides when Mrs T came with me to see her. ‘You will be fed!’ she said, and we were, though she takes a labour-saving approach to shopping and cooking: on-line orders and prepared vegetables. And of course there were conversations until late. Setting the world to rights.

Back to Kent and time to do Mrs E’s garden. Mrs E used to run a guest house, a B&B before Air BnB. It was a true vocation, making strangers welcome. Now widowed, she lives with dementia, is often confused, but always brings me a cup of tea during the morning. Her instinct for hospitality remains strong! So far she remains in her home, with the help of carers, and is able to welcome friends for tea and biscuits.

I used to visit a convent to see one of the sisters on church business, but the sister who answered the door would always raise my spirits. The first time we met she told me, ‘Mostly we look after old people here.’ This from an old lady, walking with two sticks, and bent double. Making the stranger welcome is one of the seven works of mercy, and so is visiting the infirm. One good turn generates another in a virtuous circle.

How can I make someone welcome this week? Who might like a visit from me?

Here is a link to the US Bishops’ interesting reflections on the works of mercy.

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5 July, Sustaining life: L’Arche and reasoning.

Mutual washing of feet is an important Lenten custom in L’Arche.

There has been many a battle within the Church, as well as in wider society, to persuade people to accept and treat those with learning difficulties as full and equal members. In the 1980’s and later we were still facing priests who refused to admit children to the sacraments ‘because, bless him, he doesn’t need it, he’s not reached the age of reason. He’ll never understand.’ (As if anyone fully understands the Eucharist at a rational level.)

A sister I once knew was catechist to a boy who had little spoken language; she prepared him for First Communion until the day before, when she brought along an unconsecrated wafer to enact the moment of receiving the Host. He held out his hands with such reverence; he made his First Communion there and then, she said.

That story came to mind when I read this passage from Archbishop Williams’s latest book. Regular readers will know that Agnellus’ Mirror is very fond of L’Arche. It’s good to find insights from someone else. I pray that we in L’Arche may always be consistent and life-sustaining.

It is essential for us to think about the ‘rationality’ of those we stigmatise, patronise, ignore and exclude whose mental capacity is not what we define as ‘normal’. The response of gratitude, affection, human sensitivity, ability to relate and cooperate that is visible, for example, in members of the L’Arche communities, where people with significant learning challenges live alongside those who do not have such challenges, should make us hesitate about defining the limits of ‘rationality’ without reference to such relational qualities. We may begin to see ‘reasoning’ as a richly analogical term, with an application to any form of consistent and life-sustaining adjustment to the environment, human and non-human.

From ‘Looking east in winter, contemporary thought and the Eastern Christian tradition’, Rowan WIlliams, London, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2021.

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25 June: What is your name?

This was Rev Jo Richards’ Sermon at the Canterbury benefice of Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter, for the first Sunday after Trinity 19 June 2022. We share it with her permission. Thank you, Jo! 19 June was the start of Refugee Week, it closes today. Recently we must all have become more aware of the allied challenges of Exile and Homelessness, which Jo addresses here; the picture shows a camp of homeless people beside Saint Mildred’s church. Rev Jo’s text is Luke 8: 26-39.

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Welcome! Young people who are here today, welcome, old people, also those who may be students, welcome, married people and divorced people, welcome; gay people, trans people, welcome; happy people and sad people welcome, every kind of family, welcome. Welcome to those of all faiths and those without, welcome and welcome to agnostics, saints & pilgrims.

Those are the words on our welcome board that you would have passed as you came in today. It says that we seek to be an inclusive community and we care about issues including homelessness, poverty, disability, mental health, the environment, racial justice and lgbtqia+ issues. Those on-line and here in person, welcome; this church is for you.

As this is also refugee Sunday, marking the beginning of refugee week, welcome to all refugees past and present. As Jesus himself was once a refugee fleeing persecution to a safe country.

As we set our sights on Jesus and follow his example, today’s gospel reading gives us insight of Jesus’ inclusive welcome to all.

There is a lot that is unclean in this story; first the man himself. People with mental illness in pre-scientific days, were considered to be demon-possessed. They were condemned and cast out from society and had to take refuge. As they were considered dead and useless to society they were banished as outcasts to live amongst the dead in tombs. This man was homeless, and had no friends not wanted or loved; he was lonely and pitiful. He was surrounded by the pigs, caked in mud, who were also considered to be unclean by Jewish society.

But this man recognises who Jesus is, recognising him as the son of God. Jesus saw this man for who he was; he stops and asks that very natural question. What is your name? He may have been unclothed, alone, tied up and beaten like a mad dog, but once he would have had a name, and Jesus wants to know.

Jesus identifies this person as a human being and by asking him that basic question, what is your name, he is restoring this man’s humanity, this is the beginning of his healing.

Consider the homeless of our cities, who are often outcast with no homes to go to; those who also have issues concerning their mental health; those who live in the tombs of our city, amongst the rubbish; those we pass by who might live in the door way of Poundland, or outside Wilko’s, those who live in the tents at St Mildred’s; those who sleep outside VegBox every night, and those who sit at Westgate Towers, picture them for a moment.

These people are our parishioners, for they live in our Benefice, albeit on the streets, often through no fault of their own. When I was licenced to the Benefice, I was given the cure of souls of all those who live in our Benefice, including the homeless, so I often stop and chat, and ask them their name.

It is often through stopping and listening that you get to hear the back story. To give someone the time of day is the biggest gift we can give, sometimes I buy a coffee, rarely money, but time and conversation doesn’t cost a penny. What is your name?

The other day I was chatting to a chap, someone who wanted to know when St Mildred’s was open as he wanted some quiet time, so I said it was unfortunately shut, but St Dunstan’s was open for prayer. He had with him a beautiful leather holdall. I asked him about it, his mum had given it to him for his tools. He had done his BA in art, then his masters and woodwork was his passion and in it he carried his precious tools and all his worldly goods.

What is your name asks Jesus? Jesus recognises this person as a human being and can see beyond the squalor in which the man in our reading lives. He sees beyond his mental health, he sees a human being with a name, a human being that was once loved, and Jesus heals him.

Consider the bystanders who witnessed this event, who saw this miracle. I wonder why they are afraid, and they beg Jesus to go and the healed man wants to go too with Jesus; but no, instead Jesus commissions this man, who was this homeless down and out, as an evangelist. He tells him to go home and tell others how much God has done for him. Jesus expects him to be a messenger of the good news. I wonder who would listen to him; those who had known him before and their preconceived ideas of what this homeless man can offer, but Jesus knows, sees him for who he really is and commissions him.

On my prayer walk the other day I met this man who was homeless, and he was lying on the wall, so I stopped and had a chat. I asked him his name; he replied, I can’t remember the last time someone stopped me and asked me my name, and said see me as a human being – my name he said is Matthew, as in Matthew Mark, Luke and John.

Paul reminds us there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus .

So going back to our welcome poster. This church is for you, with our inclusive welcome for all. So perhaps a challenge for us all this refugee week, is to perhaps stop and ask that life changing question, what is your name. Be it to someone over coffee in the hall or someone who sits in the tombs of our city. Amen.


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3 May: In the Gloom of the Evening.

Doctor Johnson is on his travels in the Isle of Skye, in Autumn of the year 1773. The places named were homes of the local gentry who unfailingly welcomed Johnson and his friend James Boswell.There were no roads on Skye at this time and a trusted guide was absolutely necessary for safety.

More than 200 years later, I cannot help but think of the violence, terror and uncertainty that so many unwilling travellers have experienced in recent months, and the welcome they have received from strangers in their unexpected hour of need. Let us hope and pray that a ‘degree of cheerfulness’ may be granted them through the kindness of others, enabling them to sustain their children and vulnerable dependents.

In our way to Armidel (Armadale) was Coriatachan, where we had already been, and to which therefore we were very willing to return.  We staid however so long at Talisker, that a great part of our journey was performed in the gloom of the evening. 

In travelling even thus almost without light thro’ naked solitude, when there is a guide whose conduct may be trusted, a mind not naturally too much disposed to fear, may preserve some degree of cheerfulness; but what must be the solicitude of him who should be wandering, among the craggs and hollows, benighted, ignorant, and alone? The fictions of the Gothick romances were not so remote from credibility as they are now thought. 

In the full prevalence of the feudal institution, when violence desolated the world, and every baron lived in a fortress, forests and castles were regularly succeeded by each other, and the adventurer might very suddenly pass from the gloom of woods, or the ruggedness of moors, to seats of plenty, gaiety, and magnificence.  Whatever is imaged in the wildest tale, if giants, dragons, and enchantment be excepted, would be felt by him, who, wandering in the mountains without a guide, or upon the sea without a pilot, should be carried amidst his terror and uncertainty, to the hospitality and elegance of Raasay or Dunvegan.

Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland by Samuel Johnson.

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27 April: Tea’s company


Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
  Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
  And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
  Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
  That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
  So let us welcome peaceful evening in.

These lines by William Cowper are taken from his long poem ‘The Task’, written in response to a challenge from his friend Lady Ann Austen. Many readers will recognise ‘the cups that cheer but not inebriate’ but perhaps, like me, did not know the source.

I’d like to put alongside Cowper’s image the photo on this book cover.

Jésus, l'homme de la rencontre

Bishop Claude Rault was a teacher of mine before he became Bishop of the Sahara, at least the part of it in the great empty quarter of Algeria. His book has been my Lenten reading this year, but what I want to share today is from the introduction by Fr Christophe Roucou, himself a missionary in North Africa.

Roucou explains why Bishop Rault chose this picture for his cover. It shows

“a teapot in the embers of a living fire, ready to make tea that will be drunk and shared in this corner of the desert between friends, or offered to the passer-by in token of welcome and hospitality.

“The tea of meeting!”

The word ‘meeting’ is hardly adequate as a translation of rencontre; ‘encounter’ does not, for me at least, convey the warmth and welcome implied in ‘rencontre’. Claude’s book is a commentary on the meetings Jesus had with people, as described in Saint John’s Gospel; and we know how deeply he welcomed all manner of people. A review will follow.

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5 April: Strange refuge

The symbolic Gateway to Britain at Dover, where Channel swimmers’ crossings to France may begin and crossings in the opposite direction may end
So I have a new name, refugee.
Strange that a name should take away from me
My past, personality and hope.
Strange refuge then.
So many seem to share this name, refugee,
Yet we share so many differences.
I find no comfort in my new name.
I long to share my past, restore my pride,
To show I too in time will offer
More than I have borrowed.
For now the comfort that I seek
Resides in the old yet new name 
I would choose, friend.

Written by a twelve year old Afghan Refugee.

Mrs Turnstone spotted this poem in an exhibition at Canterbury Baptist Church.

During my lifetime our country has made room for different groups of refugees: to name a few, exiles from Eastern European Communism, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese boat people, people oppressed for their sexuality or because of their opposition to dictatorships. They and their descendants are part of our society, offering more than they have borrowed.

So why are our shores so unwelcoming today? And why do people not only flee their homes but also seek to come here to Britain? Welcoming or rejecting the stranger, which is our true self?

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10 March: Pope Francis prays that migrants be made welcome.

A Lampedusa Cross, fashioned from the timbers of a migrant boat wrecked on the island.

Pope Francis’s prayer calls on us to welcome and reach out to the exiles who find their way into our community, into our parish. With restrictions lifting, let us be conscious that there are new people among us, people, too, who are tentatively coming back to worship after several months away. Let’s say a word or two to those we meet or end up sitting next to. Francis wrote this prayer before the war began in Ukraine which only increases our need to welcome the stranger among us.

Father,
grant the followers of Jesus
and all people of good will,
the grace to do your will on earth.

Bless each act of welcome and outreach
that draws those in exile
into the 'we' of community and of the Church,
so that earth may truly become a common home
for all people. 
AMEN.

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