More thoughts after reading Teulu Asaph.
Thanks to my East End Cockney mother, I grew up knowing all about welcoming strangers. The East End of London has always been a melting pot for migrants, immigrants and refugees. In May 1939 my father’s office moved out of London to a safe area and once the bombing started our house became a haven for evacuees as well. We always had at least one person officially billeted with us but we also welcomed family and friends and friends of friends, who found a camp bed or a sofa a wonderful couch after nights spent in a shelter or on a tube station platform.
When the war ended nothing changed in the way we welcomed strangers. My mother, a devout Anglican, always unconsciously behaved as if, as Bishop Gregory says in Teulu Asaph, we might be ‘entertaining angels unaware.’
I’m lucky enough to have a Polish daughter-in-law so we always begin Christmas with a traditional Polish meal on Christmas Eve. (My son always tries to get out of eating the carp which he describes as cottonwood stuffed with needles, but that’s his problem.) We begin the meal by sharing a special wafer and we always lay an extra place at the table.
Later in the magazine Mark Yaconelli, former Missioner, writes about his time in the Diocese and his experience of being a stranger. A rather privileged stranger, I would have thought, invited by the Bishop and with a house found for him and his family. And a job to come to; a job moreover that involved meeting people at all levels. Ironically, in his farewell article he says: “What I can tell you is that the people who I found to be most alive, most awake to the life of God, are the people who are working at the margins of our society, with the homeless, the poor, addicts, refugees, immigrants, young people and other marginalized groups. God has always been found along the edges, among the powerless. He is still there today.”
What are we to make of that?
Far from being homeless I have a comfortable house in which I love to welcome people. I am not poor, nor am I an addict, though I love a glass of wine; I am most certainly not young. On the other hand, I feel a bit of an immigrant, since I am English and, as an old fashioned Anglican I am definitely one of a marginalised group. God is indeed “found along the edges, among the powerless.” And amongst those often in the depths of despair. And all because I still believe marriage is between one man and one woman.
Fortunately, I have found alternatives—on the Internet, for which I truly thank God. I can listen to brilliant sermons from people who do not think of themselves as alternative social workers; nor are they afraid to point out that judgement accompanies mercy. Some will even tell us that the God of the Old Testament is a loving God and Jesus in the New Testament can be stern and demanding. How often does He tell someone, for example, after lovingly healing them, ‘Go and sin no more.’
I can also listen to the hymns of my choice, from Westminster Abbey to Gospel Choirs. That is how I was reminded of these two verses yesterday, which seem to say it all.