welcoming a guest

Today I spoke to the Halifax Grammar School, ages 4-10, about the Brunswick Street Mission. 125 neatly dressed children in ties and dresses sat on the floor of a classroom and listened to me tell the story of Brunswick Street Mission for 10 minutes, then asked questions and finally committed with their teachers to bring in needed items to support the Mission over the Christmas holidays.

I opened my remarks by asking the children how many of them prepared a snack for Santa Claus. A first only a handful raised their hands and later more than ¾ of the class admitted they get something ready for Santa when he comes down the chimney. I asked what they put on the plate (I had a small table with plate on top in front of me) and the answers were cookies, milk and carrot sticks. There were no other answers. I then shifted to how we include guests at our table over Christmas, even persons we don’t know well but who have other invites during the holidays. I asked if any of their families did this, a few people raised their hands. I reminded them, and the listening teachers, that Nova Scotia currently has a campaign to link families who have room at their table for a guest or two and a new Canadian family. It is a great idea to bring Maritime hospitality to our newest residents.

I was relieved that there was no instant push back from the students or the teachers about the scary “strangers”. Obviously one would not go out into the streets and invite people into your home. But noticing a person in your neighbourhood or in one’s organization who appears to be alone and welcoming them to your table seems like a hospitable gesture with minimal risk. But we live in a culture where we are so afraid of one another that we keep to ourselves and those whom we know or look and sound like us. This has led to a society where large pockets of people know more about what likeminded people are doing halfway around the world but don’t know anyone outside their neighbourhood and workplace. The irony is that most of the crimes we most fear in the “other” are actually committed by persons known to us.

I was genuinely moved that these children and these teachers were not thrown into a state of panic when I mentioned inviting a lonely person to their table.

I then moved to the persons who live and walk by the Brunswick Street Mission and how they are welcomed, like a guest, into the home of the Mission for a meal, for assistance, for Christmas gifts, for food and clothing, etc… The beginning of the relationship is formed by the presence of the other as a guest and the hospitality offered is in that spirit. I tried to make the connection between the welcome we make for Santa to the welcome we offer to the lonely neighbour or co-worker to the welcome offered to the one who walks down Brunswick Street. The common spirit is hospitality.

The questions from the children focused on the meal, did we offer something to vegetarians and did we offer something for persons whose religion forbids them to eat pork. Again the focus was around hospitality, how we would respect the choices of our guests and treat them as family.