Joining a new group or attending an event can sometimes feel a little unnerving. We may not know the rules, the other people attending seem to already know each other and we might be anxious about making mistakes. If we are having a difficult time in life in general then this can make attending a new group or event even more difficult.
In some places, the power of recognising and welcoming someone new is being overlooked. The “welcome” seems to have been lost, reduced to insignificant gestures: a duty rather than something much richer, much like in the hospitality industry where strangers are welcomed only if they have the money and credit cards.
In some cultures the power of ‘welcome’ is held in very high-regard and the stranger on the doorstep is welcoming as one of the highest deities; there is, for example, an Indian saying that ‘Guest is God.’ Author Sophie Sabbage (i) describes the Zulu greeting ‘Sawubona’, which means ‘I see you.’ The response is ‘Ngikhona’, said looking into the other’s eyes, means ‘I am here’ (ii). As Sophie says, this is about how ‘our hearts need to know we are visible to others as acutely as our bodies need food, water and rest.’
Creating welcoming places is a key step to ensure we can all feel a sense of belonging and worthiness. Shining a light on our welcome can help us uncover, restore and re-grow our welcome. Bruce Anderson (iii), who has done much work around welcoming, says welcome is not something to be learnt, but rather it is something to be rediscovered. He says we sometimes need help to do this — to see again with fresh eyes. We are often too busy and have other things on our mind, but by recognising and removing the barriers we can rediscover the full wonders of welcoming.
In reality welcoming is easy to do but difficult to remember. To welcome means to really ‘see’ the person walking through the door, to see their gifts and to be open to receiving help, wisdom and guidance from the person we are meeting or helping. There is a wonderful piece of old wisdom that says that helping is similar to breathing; you have to breathe in as much as you breathe out if you want to sustain your life. This is similar to the Christian tradition where a welcome is connected to Jesus being both guest and host to us.