I’ve been saying for a long time that things are different here. They really are. Kathy and I have been sharing the week with friends from the UK, Peter and Jan, and it seems that every time we have guests from away we come to appreciate the uniqueness of this place in fresh ways.
Just yesterday I was telling Peter about the arches I see in churches across this diocese when I visit. I was surprised that he had never heard of the practice. Generally built of evergreen bows attached to a wooden frame, arches often welcome the bishop and are always found at the main entrance of the church. I do not know the history behind arches in Newfoundland and Labrador but I do know they are seen as a sign of respect and welcome when the bishop comes. Building arches has been part of our church tradition here for generations and most parishes still maintain the practice.
But it’s not as if they needed to do that in order to welcome me. I feel welcome everywhere I go in this diocese whether there is an arch to greet me or not. I truly do feel great affection from the members of this church in so many ways. I like to think of the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador as “one church with 81 sites” when you add up the number of active church buildings we have today. The bishop is the one pastor who belongs to everyone no matter where they worship.
The welcome I receive goes far beyond arches and includes other kinds of Christian Hospitality right down to the “cup of tea” after the service. In some ways that’s when I feel most welcome as I talk informally with people following worship and share with them in the breaking of a different kind of bread. I once called the cups of tea we share in the church the “sacrament of the ordinary” and I have been known to say that you can change a life with a cup of tea and a raisin bun if you share them with love.
Truthfully, I think our church is often at its best over a cup of tea or coffee. There is something authentic and sincere about meeting in such a simple and ordinary way. Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have a marvelous capacity for hospitality and kindness toward visitors that shows itself at such times. And whether the visitor is a bishop or a stranger the welcome should be the same. Hospitality is the very best doorway of all into the church community.
This is a strength I want us to build upon in creative ways as we seek a renewed vision for our church. I really think we need to deepen the welcome for every traveller who passes through our doorways (and archways). I believe that coffee shops and cafes make wonderful additions to places of worship for they allow people to encounter each other in fresh and relaxed ways. Beyond that I long to see some of our extra room repurposed creatively to serve people in need just like we’ve done with Marguerite’s’ Place of the Safe Harbour Outreach Project. And how about using some of the green space around our churches for Community Gardens to draw people together in innovative and life-giving ways? When you create a community garden not just vegetables grow; a community also grows.
I really do feel welcome everywhere in our church today from my first arrival to my final sip of tea before leaving but I want to make sure everyone else feels as welcome as I do. And what’s really neat about welcoming people is we don’t need to build an archway or put out the best china. We just need to do the little things with great love. The hospitality we show is the best archway of all we can build for every wanderer and every bishop who comes our way. Hospitality may be the very best doorway of all into our church! With my every blessing, +Geoff