“Welcome! Come in. Sit yourself down. Make yourself comfortable. Have a cup of tea.”
The guest came in, somewhat nervously. “I haven’t been here before.” The truth was, she had been to other places, and though they said the words, it didn’t always feel as welcoming as the words made out. She was never sure how deep the welcome would go.
She knew she was awkward. She knew she didn’t quite fit in. She would sometimes say the wrong things. She didn’t mean any harm, but people sometimes took her the wrong way. And then their non-verbal behaviour just showed that they didn’t really want her there, so she wouldn’t go back. She didn’t want to go where she wasn’t wanted.
And some places just didn’t realise how unwelcoming they were, even when they said they wanted to welcome. They expected you to know how things worked, even if you hadn’t been there before. And if you asked for help, they would look down their noses at you. When that happened, it made her feel small. Woe betide if you sat in the wrong place. You didn’t know that Mrs Smith or Mr Jones had sat there since Victoria was crowned queen. And they hissed at her like she should have known. It made her want to crawl up in a ball with embarrassment.
Some places – you were welcome so long as you did things their way, but if you were different, or you didn’t fully understand, then you got the look. Some people didn’t really try to listen to you or understand where you were coming from. They didn’t accept you as you were, but expected you to conform to their way of doing things, their way of being. There was one time when she had made a suggestion – from her own experience and training she could see how to make a small improvement. They didn’t like that at all. They had always done things that way, and they weren’t going to change for an outsider. She really did feel the outsider then – she was never going to be let in to the inside.
With any place there were different levels of joining in. Just turning up was the start. And then you might be asked to do some little thing, when they were ready to let you. But if you said, “I would love to do such and such. Could you put me on the rota?” they were generally not best pleased. They wanted to be in control. And what they asked you to do or to get involved in was more about them than about you.
She had even been to some places where folk were just plain nasty. You would hear a group of them in a corner complaining about this one and that one. Nothing was ever good enough for them. And you knew fine that if they were grumbling about everyone else, they would soon be moaning about you. She had left some places because of the grumbling. She just didn’t want to listen to it any more. It created such a bad atmosphere – she didn’t need that in her life.
There were so many places that proclaimed welcome, but didn’t live it! She was tired now. She had done the rounds, and just wanted somewhere where she could feel at home, where she could be herself, and where she was accepted for being herself. She was willing to help, happy to contribute, but she didn’t want to play psycho-games.
The woman, the host, said again: “You are most welcome. There is a place for you here.” She was pointing to a particular seat, but it was like telling her she could stay, she could belong. It felt good.
The woman went on: “today is a feast day. We are so glad you are here today and you can share our meal and be part of our celebration.”
The guest replied: “but I don’t want to be a problem. I don’t want to get in the way.”
The woman said: “it is our privilege that you are with us. We were taught that everyone is to be welcomed like we would welcome Christ. You carry Christ into this place, and we are pleased to see you. We are honoured to have you here. You are a blessing to us, and we hope that you will find a blessing here. When you are ready, you can tell us your story and we can learn from that, and maybe you will help us as discover our future together.”
The guest couldn’t help but feel good. She had found a home.