Kate Monkhouse reflects on the practice of hospitality.
My work for many years has been about advocating with those who find themselves at the edges of public life in London. I’ve shared and heard testimonies from those who for reasons of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, money, education find ourselves excluded in some way.
The tradition of Initiatives of Change invites us to make space for inner listening – to our own deepest wisdom, to our moral conscience, to who or what we call God. However we name that practice and relationship, I have found that I now experience my quiet times as a place of welcome. The more I feel called to go out to work for social justice, the more I know I need to start from a place of coming in, turning towards Love and inviting Love to reside in my life.
Inner listening often leads us to places where there is a need for reconciliation, trust or justice. We can have a role in ushering in a welcome in the lives of others, if we are willing to be of service and to listen.
When I was working at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), I opened the door to many refugees. We were taught this was the most important thing we could do – open the door, smile, show them we were delighted to see them, invite them in, ask if they would like tea or coffee, had they eaten that morning, would they like to sit down. The asylum seekers who JRS receives are often shut out – not only from housing and employment, but increasingly from healthcare and education. We call them by name, welcome them in, build community with them – and in turn, bit by bit, we are welcomed into their lives.
For the practice of welcome contains a paradox. As we orient ourselves towards others, we are often changed by the encounter. Everyday interruptions as well as intentional acts of connection become invitations for us to see ourselves in a new way. The truest moment of welcome is not necessarily when I open a door, but when the person I think I am helping invites me into their life, with a story or gesture of trust.
Welcome in our search for fairer communities will often mean being challenged as well as surprised and delighted. It will take us across the limits we set for ourselves and for others. We will transgress boundaries, cross thresholds and be made welcome ourselves by those we least expect to need to be welcomed by. We will also face rejection, have doors slammed in our faces and be shut out in the cold.
Welcome matters – for ourselves, for those we share our lives with and for our world. If we can welcome parts of ourselves that we are unsure of, we can welcome those who might challenge us. We might then be able to listen to others’ fears of difference, and to open doors for transformation and hope.