Welcome the Stranger
Rev. Dr. Ore L. Spragin, Jr., Guest Editor
It is not always an easy thing to welcome those who are different than us. This is true not only for interracial and intercultural group interactions but it is also true for interactions among differing people within the same group. I’m referring to the interactions that must occur when preachers and their families are transferred from one annual conference or Episcopal district to another. Further, I don’t mean only minister-parishioner interactions. Often preachers, themselves, are the most unkind to incoming newcomers. How is it possible to welcome the stranger we are supposed to already know?
Empathy may be the best place to begin. To empathize with someone is to choose to see things from the perspective of the other and to feel what they feel. The same fears and misgivings you have about your new pastor may well be the same feelings he or she has about their new appointment and new home. They, too, are breaking ties and leaving attachments. While the minister may find this easier to do because they have made a vow to do so and are required to do so, their spouse and children may find this a more difficult task to accomplish. Imagine how you might feel if you were in their shoes.
Second, empathy can and should lead to conversation. Such conversation should be conducive to warm, friendly, and Christian relations. Dialog about differences, as well as similarities, can shorten the distance between people and reveal aspects that may not otherwise be learned. Even “small talk” can break the icy divide that so often exists between members of the church.
Third, take opportunities and make genuine opportunities to do good, share experiences, and show love. Such opportunities could be a special time of welcoming, giving the stranger a card, inviting and taking them to lunch, and offering to assist with the tasks of getting settled in and acquainted with a new place. This includes their spouse and children.
Finally, speak up or out against words and acts of rejection and hate even when this occurs behind “closed doors.” What you do and accept in private has a lot to do with the formation of the public climate.
All of these actions can help us to not demonize those who—in a few or in many ways—are not like us and can draw us closer to one another. On the other hand, a lack of proactive behavior will only deepen the divide and perhaps validate unfounded feelings of mistrust. They may begin with baby steps and lead us to realize that we may never see things the same way. As most persons have come to realize, diversity is good and recognize it as such to see each other through the eyes of God, our universal Creator.
The Rev. Dr. Ore L. Spragin, Jr., is the editor of The Christian Index, the official organ of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.