I’ve been to quite a few Advent (and Lent) courses over the years, and they have all been helpful, maybe some more than others. This one sounded intriguing and different though – ‘Welcoming Christ the Stranger’ (led by Karl Möller and Revd Nicki Pennington), and for me, it lived up to its promise.
We met at Church House in Penrith, and we were a diverse group; some folk we knew, and some we didn’t. One real difference, though, was that we were following the course with people around the county who we couldn’t ‘see’, quite a lot of people apparently. In one sense, these others remained ‘strangers’ to us, in another they were our partners as we worked through the course together. It felt encouraging to know there were others doing what we were doing. It felt we were all part of a community, just as we are when we meet in our separate churches to worship.
Not surprisingly, bearing in mind the title, there was a big emphasis on welcome. For us in Penrith there was purposeful, genuine, heartfelt welcome from the course leaders, which sounds so simple but impacts on how everyone responds to each other. There were generous ‘more than would be expected’ refreshments at each session – and the final shared meal together, all underlining the part food and drink play in our welcome of people, and maybe how, if we go the extra mile with folk, many will respond in kind.
And then there was the content. We had liturgy, song, poetry, and teaching that was challenging, inspiring and relevant to our daily lives. It was thoughtful, reflective and fun. I really enjoyed it, even the challenges, which I am still working on! For example, seeking out people who hold different perspectives to me and being prepared to listen ‘hospitably’ to them, really trying to understand them, rather than either avoiding them or just waiting for a break in the conversation to convince them that my view is right.
It challenged us to step out of our comfort zones and reminded us to seek Christ in the ordinary things of life, the everyday encounters with people we meet, the opportunities we are given to listen to, and care for, people, if we are not too busy and distracted. It links to our mission – how do we reach out to and welcome those who are different, who we may think are odd, or even look down on, or feel uncomfortable with. How do we make our churches places that welcome and embrace everyone?
For the final session, we were ‘Invited to the feast’ – and this was a new experience for me. I’ve been to quite a number of bring-and-share meals, as this was, and the food was of course excellent and plentiful, but it was the format of the meal that was different for me. It was full of symbolism and reflection. It was apparently based on a Passover meal. Like the rest of the course, it was welcoming, enjoyable and challenging.
The whole course was less of an ‘event’ and more of an ‘experience’. Learning of the heart and soul, not just of the mind.
Author: Mary Edwards
Ordinand in her first year of training with Cumbria Christian Learning