By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt
Setting a date and time for an operation is never an easy thing to do.
I stood in front of the orthopedic surgeon’s appointment manager, with my calendar open, waiting to hear what viable options were going to be offered to me.
“I am new here,” she said with a smile. “Please give me a moment, I want to check something. Excuse me…”, she called out, trying to catch the attention of a more senior member of the surgeon’s staff, ”Pardon me…”, the volume of her voice rising until the person at the next desk turned to face her.
“I want to get this right,” she asked, “Can I schedule two knees and a hip on the same day? “
In that setting, I was not seen as a husband, father, grandfather, priest, or viewed in any other capacity. I was “a hip”.
Often, I suspect, we view others in ways which are unique to the setting and the relationship which connects us to them. What others know of us, is often limited by what information we share with them. The people whose lives cross ours may simply present the tip of the iceberg of their identity, so that our immediate connection with them gives us a very limited insight into who they are as individuals.
One of the highlights of the year in the Deanery of Waterloo is a fundraising function for the Working Centre. Among many elements of the diverse community services offered by the organization is St. John’s Kitchen. Housed for many years in the parish hall of the Church of St John the Evangelist, in downtown Kitchener, St John’s Kitchen provides a free, hot mid-day meal for hundreds of individuals from Monday to Friday.
The Kitchen moved away from the parish hall a number of years ago. The space they occupy now has air conditioning! As the rector of St. John’s, I would sometimes sit in the parish hall and enjoy a meal with folks who chose to sit by me and share, not only food, but also share their life story.
Often, the outward appearance of my lunch companions was not their highest priority. However, there were conversations which took place in that setting which proved to be quite fascinating as stories were offered. Life experiences with many peaks and valleys were shared. The person emerged from behind the outward, visible facade, which may have shaped my perspective of the person, in an unfair way.
How often do individuals enter a church building for the first time, only to face a spoken or even an unspoken judgement, based on a small fraction of their personality? A person who is shy, a person who is hesitant, a person who is simply trying to find their way in a new setting, may be treated very differently from an vivacious and outgoing person who, without a bit of hesitancy, jumps into the life of a community. Who receives the warmer welcome?
The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot presume to know the full story of others.
How we treat others, hopefully, reflects the way in which we would hope to be treated ourselves.
The ministry of welcome and hospitality which needs to be at the core of congregational life does not allow for anyone to be treated in any way, other than with respect.
Look around at the people with whom you worship, those who are part of your community of faith. How well do you really know them? Are there those whose connection with you is simply defined by the Exchange of the Peace? Is that person with the cane an individual whose life story has more to offer than the awareness that they are waiting for hip replacement surgery?
Speak to someone you do not know at coffee hour. God has brought people together into a worshipping fellowship, each with their own stories and needs. Listen to their stories. Your life will be enhanced as you allow the light of the Love of Christ to shine through you and brighten up their lives.
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry, but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese of Huron.