Welcoming the Stranger

From Nottingham Post – Faith on Saturday for 4th September 2021

by Paul Williams, Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham

Welcoming the stranger

We can only imagine what it must be like for the thousands of people from Afghanistan who find themselves this autumn rebuilding their lives in a new country far from home. No doubt our thoughts and prayers are also with those who were unable to leave in the evacuation, as well as the millions of Afghans who, trembling, hope somehow still to play a part in making a better future for their beloved country.

Most of us will never need to flee our home and country. It can be difficult therefore to express true empathy and compassion, not because we don’t care but we simply don’t understand what it might be like. The nearest thing I can recall from childhood is that disorientated feeling you have on the first day in senior school. All the background noise seems to be amplified, the activity around you is relentless, everyone appears to know where they are going except you, and you fear getting lost in the crowd of strange faces. Though you’re told you should be excited by all the new possibilities ahead you still feel sick with fear and long for home.

While there will be some from Afghanistan making a new home in our city and county, there are many others we encounter in our daily lives who feel a sense of disorientation and isolation. We can make a difference. Not by telling them we understand what they feel but by showing them practical kindness and taking a little time to hear their story. We can be champions of true hospitality.

‘Hospitality’ is a great word. It doesn’t simply mean inviting someone to share a meal – though that’s a powerful thing to do in any culture. Hospitality is also a healing word, from which we get our word ‘hospital’. Healing painful memories from the past and restoring hope in the future is as important as physical healing.

For Christians, this is what it means to walk in the way of Jesus, who was forever engaging with the outsider, often causing offense to the sensitivities of the in-crowd. His revolution of sacrificial love created the seeds of a new vision for hospitality that continues to transform lives today. The church at its best is all about God’s amazing hospitality. Sadly, at its worse, it is another in-crowd making it hard for an outsider to encounter God’s love. Thankfully, across our city and county we have many churches that aspire to be the former even as they acknowledge times when tragically they have been the latter. True humility then animates hospitality, dethroning its hidden politics of power.

A final thought: for those with a heart hardened by life’s struggles, I commend the new movie Coda that explores this theme with depth and beauty, as well as disarming humour.

Graphic adapted from image at pngtree.com and used with permission. Original image designed By sj陈宇欣