Monday, 29 April 2013

Welcoming the Stranger

The United Church of Christ in the United States, as part of their 'God Is Still Speaking' campaign, produced that fantastic ejector seat ad.  If someone comes in to the church and doesn’t fit in, you just hit the ejector button.  I ministered in Islington through most of the eighties and one of the interesting challenges that took quite a bit of time over a number of months towards the end of that ministry was a variety of refugee crises, particularly a large influx of Kurdish refugees to Hackney and Islington at one point.  I always remember the Sunday afternoon when I got a phone call asking if we could temporarily put up a group of Kurdish men in the church.  Thank goodness that health and safety hadn’t got going quite as it has now in those days.  And thank God for a congregation that lived with the wild and wonderful decisions of their minister.  Because as the faithful arrived  for Sunday evening worship, so did about thirty Kurdish men, some of whom were going to end up using our church premises as home for up to three months.  Over the weeks that followed, I, and others, befriended these men and helped with the provision of food and clothes, despite the lack of a common language.  I remember one particular Sunday some weeks later.  I had messed up big time in my preparation for Sunday morning worship.  I had only realised about fifteen minutes before the service that it was scheduled as all-age worship and so jettisoned my carefully prepared sermon and was very much making it up as I went along.  Shortly after the service began, one of my Kurdish friends, Halil, decided to come into the service.  He entered the sanctuary and looked around to see where to sit.  It is always good to sit beside someone you know – and the person he knew best was me so, despite the fact that everyone else was, more or less facing one way – we were probably in something of the round, rather than straight rows – and I was doing the opposite, he came and sat beside me and, despite the language barrier, proceeded to interrupt the time I was trying to use to think about what I was going to do next, by asking me various things about the service.  But, so far as the congregation was concerned, nobody gave any indication that it was anything other than perfectly normal for someone to come in and sit down beside the worship leader.
Let's be ready to welcome the stranger!