A guest blog from Grace Pengelly, Secretary for Church and Society at our associate partners the United Reformed Church
By the time this blog appears, the General Election will have happened and the UK will have elected a new government. Just!
Whatever the election statistics, it’s certain that some of us will feel jubilant and others deflated about an unwelcome outcome, while Parliament will be gearing up for the next chapter in its continuing story.
At Greenbelt this year, the URC will be exploring the theme of ‘More than Welcome’; challenging Greenbelters to move beyond the usual platitudes and to consider what a radical welcome looks like in 2017.
The challenge of how to respond as people of faith to outcomes or situations we might be unhappy with can sometimes feel like a Catch 22. If we profoundly disagree with the policies of a particular government or party, is it unchristian for us to voice our concerns? Do we have to welcome the outcome, no matter what? What about Brexit?
The idea of a radical welcome forces us to leave our comfort zones behind. Rather than trotting out the same phrases about loving our neighbour without really thinking about it, radical welcome is about entering a space of honesty and openness. It does not mean that we will necessarily adopt the same perspectives as our neighbours, but it does mean that we make the effort to hear about the experiences of those we don’t normally count as friends, and to try our hardest to understand where they are coming from.
I do this in a very simple way. Every couple of weeks or so, I will pick up a different newspaper. It’s amazing to discover that there are other perspectives and ways of understanding the same news stories. And, while I am unlikely to become a subscriber to the Daily Mail anytime soon, I find it helpful to read what my neighbours read. It helps me understand them just that little bit more.
It is vital that we do this. If we’ve learnt one thing over the past year about politics, it’s that as a country, we’re very bad at understanding why our neighbours hold particular views. It’s easy for us to stereotype and to put people into pigeonholes. It’s much harder to give people the benefit of the doubt, setting aside time for conversation and dialogue.
As our new government outlines its plans for the forthcoming parliament in the Queen’s Speech next week, it’s essential that we allow our own views to be challenged – and changed – by listening to the needs and perspectives of those it is sometimes easier to ignore. Is there room in your life to make people feel More Than Welcome?
Grace Pengelly is the United Reformed Church’s Secretary for Church and Society.
The URC is a member of the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT. ‘Conversation Welcome’ is a set of discussion resources that the team produced after the EU referendum to help congregations and communities have conversations about the future of the UK. You can download the resources here.