This message first appeared in September’s edition of Itchen Valley News
Welcome to this month’s Parish letter, but, much more importantly, a wholehearted welcome to Peter and Georgie. We all hope that they will find happiness and contentment in our beautiful valley, and look forward to the commencement of his Ministry amongst us. I was reading recently of the Queen’s official welcome to Balmoral Castle, which took place two weeks after her arrival in Scotland; likewise Peter and Georgie’s official welcome will come a month after their arrival here, with his Service of Institution as Rector of our Parish, and the symbolic handing over of the keys to the four churches. Let us hope and pray that they have had a peaceful month settling in and getting to know the Valley.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
How do we define the word “welcome” in the Valley. To answer this question, I asked various people what it meant to them, the first being Gerry Stacey. He thought that a “welcome” usually included food, and this is exactly what we have missed being able to offer, during lockdown – something that the Valley does so well. We sadly miss those precious moments of communication after a Service in Church, coffee parties, tea parties, etc. These meetings over food and drink give us a chance to really welcome strangers, to get to know them and to begin the first steps to friendship and love.
How do we welcome family and friends? Hopefully, with happy smiles, big hugs and kisses, and with many expressions of joy at our reunion – followed by the provision of the sort of food and drink that they will like, cooked lovingly for them. Luckily for us, all our family members live either very near or within an hour and a half, so their visits are usually for lunch and tea, giving us the chance to produce some of their favourite sweet treats.
How do we welcome strangers? If on a dog walk and you discover they have just arrived in the area, probably with a “Welcome to the Valley”, and the hope that you will see them again and progress the conversation. In Church, when introduced, it is probably with a handshake (when allowed!), and a smile, whilst looking them straight in the eye, as we say “Welcome”. That first moment of contact is so important, and has been sadly curtailed by Covid and mask wearing. It is difficult to convey the warmth that one feels with just the eyes, despite them being the “windows of the soul”.
How do we progress from strangers to friends? This must be through communication and conversation, and asking the newcomers more about themselves and their families – always made easier with a cup of coffee and biscuit in hand. By the time this goes to press, I hope we will again be able to share “The Peace” in Church – a simple act of friendship that symbolizes so much, and meet each other in the first six weeks of Peter’s Ministry at the many services and celebrations planned.
Jesus set us such a wonderful example of welcoming and empathy with all the crowds who turned out to listen to him. Although the disciples and He were weary from travelling and performing miracles, He still had time to turn bread and small fishes into enough food for firstly 5,000 and then 4,000 people to share, and it is in this sharing with people that we come to know each better, and friendship, a sense of belonging and love emerge.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”
This is another powerful message from Jesus, which is just as relevant today as it was then, and one that we would do well to emulate. He welcomed everyone, Jew and Gentile, saint and sinner, tax collector and prostitute, and invited them to sit down with Him. In a community such as ours, everyone should feel welcome and included, whether they are churchgoers or not. Many people have spoken about the “warmth” of the Valley, but, inevitably, some fall beneath the radar, and it would be a pity to think of them being lonely and sad, when there so many of us who would be happy to visit and sit and talk, so please get in touch if we can help.