Welcoming strangers

My preamble to worship on November 17, 2019 — Ian

What is required for one to feel welcomed to a new place – to a new country, a new job, or a new church? Also, what are the things that would best help us make people who are new to a country, workplace or church feel welcome? These are questions that help inform our gathering today.

This morning is the second of thee Sundays that takes inspiration from the 2018 book, “Homes: A Refugee Story.” “Homes” is about an Edmonton teenager and his family who arrived here from Syria in 2014. Rob McPhee will read some more selections from this book; and Audrey Murray will read an ancient biblical story about hospitality that is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Genesis 18:1-15)

This latter story is about Abraham, his wife Sarah, and three travellers; and like so much from the Bible, I find it difficult to understand. Are the three strangers whom Abraham welcomes symbols of YHWH God? Are they human? Are they angels? The answers aren’t clear to me. But I hope that hearing it will help us ponder the mysteries of hospitality and the blessings that can flow from welcoming strangers.

At this time, I am pleased to welcome today’s theme speaker, Dr. Junaid Jahangir. Junaid is going to tell us about his family’s many migrations over the last 70 years and of his time here in Edmonton, which has been his home for the past 18 years.

Junaid is an Assistant Professor of Economics at MacEwan University, and he tells us that he finds inspiration in the elder Muslim mystics of South Asia and Persia who over centuries have weaved a universal narrative of Islam in music and poetry. Junaid is well-known to people in Edmonton’s interfaith movement and in the Islamic and queer communities. You may have seen his columns in the Edmonton Journal, in Vue magazine, or in the Dazed online magazine. I know Junaid as an activist for the acceptance of queer people within Islam and for the acceptance of Islamic people in Edmonton and Canada. I am thrilled that he has agreed to come and speak about his family’s story and to offer some of his perspectives on how we in this church, city, and country could best welcome and meet one another and enjoy the blessings of the different voices that make up our neighbourhoods. Junaid, would you please stand to accept our welcome and thanks?

Although today’s service has been in the planning stages for a couple of months, its questions seem particularly pertinent this week as Canadians debate the remarks of Don Cherry last Saturday – the ones that got him fired from Hockey Night in Canada. For one, Cherry’s use of the phrase “milk and honey” evokes the biblical images of a Chosen People, a Promised Land, and the invasion and occupation of Palestine by Joshua as told in the Bible. This might remind us that the issues of newcomers and hospitality are both topical and reach back into the ancient past.

Another part of this service also touches theme of welcome. We will celebrate a brief ritual to accept five people from this community into full membership in Mill Woods United Church. I will speak more about this gesture of belonging when the time comes.

My hope for this hour is that it will inform, challenge, and encourage us to open our hearts and minds to the blessings of those who come through the doors of this church and who ends up living in this diverse and wonderful neighbourhood.