St Peter's Community Shoreham by Sea Dear Friends My sister Kathy sent me a front doormat as a Christmas present. In place of the traditional "welcome" this particular doormat greets my visitors with the words (picked out in imitation horsehair) "Oh no, not you again".
Most of those who come to the front door of the presbytery will be amused, including perhaps old Jock, the wino who asks for the fare to Glasgow and usually gets a mug of sweet tea instead.
The arrival of this family joke made me think of the importance of welcoming as a special ministry in our churches. We can overdo it, giving effusive welcomes to parishioners who have been coming to church for 30 years and just happened to come to a different mass for a change.
More often we can underdo it, erring on the side of shyness, an error that will be interpreted as indifference, ignorance or even downright rudeness by visitors or newcomers to our parishes.
In the last six months or so 700 refugees from Sudan have come to live in Brighton. They are all Coptic Christians who have been persecuted by their Moslem government. Their number could increase greatly if the persecution worsens.
The Catholic schools in the area have given a warm welcome to the children of these Arabspeaking families even though some of the English parents (a small minority I hope) are not happy with such a large influx of non-white pupils.
One teacher told me yesterday that RE lessons have been greatly enlivened with stories of torture and imprisonment from the newly-arrived Sudanese and I should imagine that this contribution can do nothing but good in a part of Sussex not exactly known for its racial mixture.
Our schools arc in the front line of the multi-racial challenge since children are obliged by the law of this land to go to school. The same cannot be said of our parishes. Nobody is compelled to go to church.
All the more reason therefore for the parish communities to seek out the latest arrivals from political or religious persecution as well as those who have fled their homes for economic reasons.
The welcome we give them must include a sensitivity to their problems of language and communication as well as to the more obvious problems of housing and employment. The welcome we extend to the strangers in our midst must be warmer than a front doormat.
Fr John Medcalf