Love bade me welcome

Published on: 1 July 2018

In many, perhaps most cultures, the obligation to offer welcome and hospitality is taken very seriously.

In the biblical law books, particularly Deuteronomy, the clear command to welcome and care for strangers and aliens comes from the mouth of God. In the Gospels, Jesus could take it for granted that when he sent his disciples out to exercise ministry and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, they would be offered hospitality wherever they went. His own teaching puts the welcome offered by God to all at its centre.

When I planned the carving of different lines of poetry into flagstones at various entrance points onto the cathedral green in Exeter, the one that spoke most to me was George Herbert’s Love Bade Me Welcome. The words are the first half-line of a poem that designates ‘God’ simply as ‘Love’ and speaks about a gentle insistence that, despite all the poet’s attempts to resist the generous welcome he is offered, brings him to a simple and thankful acceptance of the welcome that God is offering.

Those four words inscribed on the back of the pectoral cross I wear most of the time is a reminder to myself that this welcome by God, who is love, is at the heart of what he offers to us all.

Last year the three bishops of the Diocese began a series of deanery pilgrimages which will take us round each deanery of the Diocese over three years. They are part of the Mission Strategy leading up to 2021. Together with the rural dean we aim to travel around the deanery during the course of a day, mostly out in the wider community; we seek to serve and to offer God’s blessing on a wide variety of people, institutions and places. We go to each other’s deaneries, rather than the ones for which we have prime responsibility.

I have just spent a day in Norwich South and returned to one of its parishes for the Sunday which effectively gave me the weekend there. We started by blessing three to four hundred ‘park runners’ as they set off for their weekly 5k run around Eaton Park, blessed several local shops around Earlham and Heigham – even a Muslim barber’s shop where I had my hair cut as well, two community centres and a regular jazz session in the sanctuary: all places that in various ways offered a welcome within their local communities.

Perhaps the most unexpected was the opportunity to rejoice with and bless several hundred students at the UEA as they prepared to ‘Pimp Their Barrows’, fundraising for The Big C in an array of different costumes. The whole day was redolent with different ways of living out what it means to be a welcoming community and the blessing that can bring.

The welcome that we offer (and that we learn to receive) is a key part of the blessing God seeks to give to his whole creation. It is one of the most important parts of our witness to love.

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The unconscious bias question

Imagine that you are the designated welcomer in church. Today, there is a newcomer: tall, well dressed, and confident. How do you respond?


You’re very welcome!

After 37 happy years attending the same central Norwich church, we felt it would be better, having moved out to Taverham, to find somewhere local to worship. After a couple of services at St Edmund’s we knew that this was the place we wanted to be.


An artful encounter with God

Everyone knows that lions live in wardrobes, monsters lurk down the toilet, and dragons emerge from cracks in the pavement. Whatever you do don’t step on the cracks!


Refugees welcomed with love in Lulea

During an intense period in the autumn of 2015 thousands of refugees came by train to stations in the Diocese of Lulea. Emma Berkman describes how the parishes acted immediately to make the arrival as loving as possible.


Welcoming different faiths at school

Each year Corton Church of England Primary School on the East Suffolk coast near Lowestoft holds three multi-faith days as part of their RE curriculum.


Sacred spaces for children

We can all picture the scene in church: a parent struggles to pacify a crying baby while making fraught attempts to keep a toddler sitting and quietly engaged before finally the stares of other congregation members send them scuttling for the exit.


Sprowston’s vestry hour outreach

Andy Bunter unpacks how a different approach to vestry hour has opened the door to new opportunities.


Practising hospitality

I’ve been thinking about Biblical hospitality. Romans 12:13 reads “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality”. Sounds fairly straightforward, right?


A tasty welcome at Blakeney brunch

Biddy Collyer paid an early morning visit to St Nicholas Church in Blakeney to see for herself the tasty welcome that's taking the place by storm.


Places of welcome and sanctuary

Churches across the Diocese will welcome visitors to their buildings in Celebrating Open Churches that opens on Norfolk Day 27 July. It's a welcome that extends throughout the year in many and diverse ways, writes Marion Welham.


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