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A Call to Hospitality

by glynch — last modified 19 Dec, 2016 12:21 AM

The Warden of Pilsdon reflects on migration, Christmas, and living in a home shared with others

Each holiday celebrated at the Pilsdon Community has its own personality and ritual. This not only applies to the big ones like Christmas and Easter, but also to the seasons of Advent and Lent. 

What follows is a brief reflection what it feels like to share your home with strangers. What is the reality of sharing what you assume is your personal space with others for a period of time. Bear with me while I begin to tell the story. 

During the Christmas holiday last year we had a great crowd staying in the community for a full 5 nights, from Christmas Eve through to St John’s Day, the day after Boxing Day!  Along with the 32 people living in the community, we welcomed 13 wayfarers and 8 visitors and family members. A few of our own residents had travelled to their families for the holidays. In all Christmas dinner was served to 42 people and the first Boxing Day high tea was served to 52 people. Several of our neighbours joined us that day. 

Keeping track of the number of people being catered for is a small part of the story. The bigger piece of the story is what it’s like to have all these people along with the residents in this community for 6 days, some even sharing rooms. Imagine you are used to sitting quietly in the library reading for an hour every morning, with the room to yourself. Now there are strangers sitting in the room, chatting, even sitting in your favourite chair. It would be rude to ask them to move. Think about the fact that at every meal there are strangers sitting around you and not the people who normally gather near you. Seating in the community is first come first served. Everywhere you turn there is another person. This can become quite uncomfortable and irritating after a while, but you know it is for a short period of time and you adapt. There were not obvious explosions of tempers over those days, but there were a few tense moments. 

Now move forward to the beginning of the season of Lent. Each Monday during the season we have discussion group combining a movie we watched Saturday evening and the Gospel of that Sunday. This year’s movies where Amazing Grace, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Little Miss Sunshine

It was during our Monday evening discussion on Amazing Grace, a film about the abolition of the slave trade in England that we got into a fiery discussion about the movement of migrants in the world. Specifically, this discussion highlighted by comparing the arguments in Parliament then and now. A Parliament that fought to keep slavery in place and a Parliament that seeks to limit the number and movement of migrants in this county even with the knowledge of these people in extreme need. From our perspective, no matter how uncomfortable or its negative economic impact, freeing slaves and freedom for migrants are necessary actions!  

Then, during the third week of Lent, the Sunday Gospel was Luke 13:1-9 which talks about the sin and guilt of all and the need for change and repentance. What began to emerge in this discussion was a sense that there was room for change, a sort of ‘repentance’; everyone and any person, no matter their nationality had certain rights to live freely and to settle where they felt they belong. We had to stop feeling privileged or superior to others. Now, this can be an easy argument to join, as it feels good to think we are generous and open minded and God fearing. 

These feelings were held to be true until another argument was introduced. The question was asked ‘Does anyone remember what life in this community was like during the Christmas holidays? How did you feel? What was it like always seeing strangers in your home? What did it feel like to not be able to sit in your favourite chair? 

The discussion then turned into something far more tangible; something that people had a visceral reaction to. It truly became apparent that this reality demanded a lot more from people than they realized. The group had to stop and think about how they actually would live in a world where they might become the minority, the outsider. 

Although individuals were unwilling to change their opinion or remaining open to all, it was clear that it was an issue for each that was not easily resolved. It was one we needed to work through and try to stay open to. It is still a topic that every so often gets discussed as we discuss Brexit and the question of open borders. The good news is that our collective opinions, as a community, seem to be moving in the open direction. We will soon repeat the experience of sharing our home with a large number of visitors for another Christmas. 

The call of the Gospel is not always easy. Its demands for change can be as deep and can influence our personal experiences, nurturings, and self-protection. Maybe it is a life lived in community, a life in daily common-life relationship with others that helps us experience acceptance and move toward openness. And what is church but the whole community of Christian believers?

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