Saturday, 2 March 2013

What does it mean to welcome?

As someone who likes to travel, who enjoys visiting friends (and sometimes strangers) who relishes new experiences, I have experienced many welcomes. I have been made welcome close to home and far away, I have been made welcome for brief interludes and lengthy stays. I hope I have done my share of making others feel welcome too.

From the personalised welcome sign for each group who walks through the door and the first proffered cup of tea, welcome is something the Corrymeela community holds to be of central importance. It is the justification for much of what we do: words, actions, and ways of being which create a place of welcome.

The gift and decision of welcome is something we talk about freely and easily, but I have been thinking for some time it is also a subject worthy of further reflection because views of what it means to make others welcome definitely vary.

There is an understanding of welcome that resides in invisible service, in the desire for everything to be done before it is asked for and to be so perfect it passes almost unnoticed. The "other" is welcomed as a guest, a recipient of all we have to give, as someone from whom no contribution is required. The welcome is from us to them and all they have to do is receive it and enjoy it, and feel special. The five star hotel thrives on making guests feel like they are more important than, well, almost anyone else, but certainly than those who are "making them welcome."

But there is an alternative model of welcome, that of inviting the other, for however long or short a time they are with you, to be part of your community. Welcome does not have to be a one way process but is the act of creating a shared space, in which the guest is served, certainly, but also invited to share in service; where everyone is considered to have something to give as well as something to receive. Apparently the first guests at Corrymeela were greeted with the news that they would need to make their beds, and when they looked around for sheets and blankets were pointed in the direction of wood and nails. While acknowledging the possibility that time and nostalgia may have somewhat exaggerated the facts, I like the sentiment. A welcome that creates a sense of equality can inspire taking ownership and create a real sense of belonging. If we want people to "feel at home", perhaps this is only possible if we ask something of them.

I know where I feel most welcome, so next time I see you, do not hesitate to proffer a tea towel. And I will take it.

Come well 
Into this space
And be at home
A shared space
Because you are welcome here

Walk through 
An open door
Into open hearts
With outstretched open hands
Be here
Be at peace
Be at home
Because you are welcome here

Come well 
And come willingly
To receive
Still more, to give
Let us sit together
To share tea and stories
And serve together
Because you are welcome here

This welcome
An invitation
To come and give
A little of yourself
Whoever you may be
Givers and receivers 
This is love
And you are welcome here

1 comment:

  1. You are always welcome here!Especially if you cook for us! Xxx