You are Welcome

In early December, we said good bye to another house guest, our eighth since we returned from Canada the end of August.

Our guests ranged from age 19 to early 70s, and represented five nations. One of the visits was planned for more than a year, with our friend’s desire to come and visit going back decades. Another was set up in the spring, when we heard long time friends were going to be in the neighbourhood (Europe, actually). For others, we found out the day they were due to arrive that they needed somewhere to stay – these were people we hadn’t ever met. Another was a student whose family had been made homeless and needed a place close to college for a few weeks.

Like the reasons for the visits and the nations represented, the guests were all different. There were things to appreciate about the chatty ones, the quiet ones, those who we didn’t see much of, those who got stuck in and cleaned up (it’s so nice to walk into a shining kitchen that I haven’t cleaned myself or had to call anybody back to finish up the job!).

It is that time of year when the candles in the window are lit in Ireland to welcome the stranger, for it might be the Holy Family needing a place. It is the season for filling your home with people you love, or keenly feeling their absence no matter how far away they may or may not be.

Yet we still have trouble really welcoming the stranger. It’s easy to open ourselves to those who are like us, but a little trickier when it’s an ‘other.’

I brushed off our hospitality with the thought, “But sure, we have the room.” And we do, a cosy guest room just steps away from a shower room. I love having a guest room, just because it means I can have guests who are actually comfortable and we aren’t put out too much either. Ever since we had a house, I wanted a guest room and it was a long wait, but we did make it happen.

Welcoming the stranger – and friends – is easier because we were ready, which has got me thinking: how do I become ready to welcome others into my life –  into my community, workspace, social circles, or even generally into society and the nations I call home?

Asking the question is a start, but it can be too easy to just ask and not really look for answers.

Change X has some great suggestions on their website for all kinds of community engagement, including Street Feasts which is one of the ways I love staying connected in my neighbourhood, and a good way to meet the new ones who are often not Irish, or Canadian for that matter.

One of the Change X projects that I had thought about but I’ve never followed through on is Welcome Dinner, “a simple idea that brings people together, no matter what their background, to share a meal. It’s all about food, language and social interaction”. At least one dinner guest needs to be a new arrival in the country. I am reminded that I need to pursue it in the new year.

Here is a regional website in Saskatchewan that asks very practical, and some hard, questions, about newcomers in their communities. If you are interested in inclusion and integration, their site is worth a read. There are tips for long-time residents, employers, and even for newcomers, on how to engage and make transitions easier for everyone.

Amnesty International has a Ways to Welcome page on their website, including a way to sign up to get involved. Also see City of Sanctuary’s Irish branch, Places of Sanctuary Ireland.

This is just a small start and I’ll be exploring it more in the coming months.

I’m just counting on it not taking me as long as it did to have a guest room.

And I wish you all a lovely Christmas, with your homes and hearts full!



One of the strangers we welcomed last year.

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