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August 2017

This month’s letter comes from our associate minister, Revd John Lees

Welcoming the stranger

A recent newspaper article explored how we have redefined the word ‘alien’. Today we normally mean little green men in spaceships. In the past the word meant ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’.

New learners of English confuse these terms, and one language guide offers a very clear definition: an alien is a technical term for a foreign national, and a stranger is somebody you don’t know yet.

Here in East Devon many people earn their living by providing a welcome to strangers, and we do it well.

I’ve often thought that in this part of the world we should invent a new Christian festival to supplement Christmas, Easter, and Harvest. We should arguably have a Festival of Hospitality, celebrating all the people who stay among us, enjoy themselves, and support the economy. It wouldn’t just be acknowledging tourism, but a celebration of welcome.

Many Bible stories tell us about welcoming people we don’t know, especially if they are in need. It’s a powerful antidote to tribalism and suspicion. This isn’t just about helping people you don’t know. It’s about fundamental trust – trusting in strangers, and encouraging them to trust that you will be a good host.

The Bible says important things about aliens – visitors, travellers, people from other cultures. Perhaps the idea is rooted in exile: ‘”So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt’. As in many cultures, offering welcome to strangers was vital. It’s a good reminder to treat people as you would hope to be treated yourself. Besides, your visitor might be an angel or (as Sarah and Abraham found) God himself visiting your tent. Sharing food with strangers is one of the most important ways getting to know them (the word companion simply means someone you break bread with).

Hospitality isn’t just about feeding and entertaining people – it’s about being generous, and being curious. Is about what we can learn from each other and seeing the world through new eyes. You may take your home town granted, but for a visitor it may be a visual treat.

As for a service celebrating hospitality – let me know what you think. In the meantime, watch out for aliens, and be prepared to offer them tea.

 

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