Faith Matters column: 'What you did for the least of one of these, you did it to me'

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Writing this month, Bishop Martin of Chichester reflects on the blessings that come our way, often unexpectedly, when we extend the hand of friendship to strangers, just as God in Christ welcomes each of us.

Christians can be as inhospitable to strangers as any other group of people.

But this is odd, because the Christian Bible favours generosity towards strangers. Its stories suggest hospitality might bring you a blessing you never expected. Receiving strangers is also how you demonstrate the dignity of your attitude towards life.

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I once visited Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, South Africa. The township is now thought to have over 2 million inhabitants and to be the 5th largest centre of poverty in the world. 75% of the population of Khayalitsha is Christian.

The Good Samaritan, perhaps the most famous incident of hospitality being shown to a strangerThe Good Samaritan, perhaps the most famous incident of hospitality being shown to a stranger
The Good Samaritan, perhaps the most famous incident of hospitality being shown to a stranger

On my visit we went with the local parish priest to visit a woman whose home had recently been destroyed by fire. It was swiftly rebuilt with cardboard, corrugated-iron and blankets, which is what it had been made from before the fire.

There was electricity from an extension cable but no running water. Nonetheless I was invited in, given a seat (an empty paint pot – all there was), and she put the kettle on to make a cup of tea.

I was honoured and humbled by the joy of her welcome and its generosity.

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Last weekend I had the honour to extend hospitality of a different sort. It was a ceremony that marks conversion to Christianity. Entry into the Church includes christening, even for adults, and I welcomed many who are asylum seekers and refugees.

The preparation for this Christian welcome was thorough, like the preparation for the Citizenship ceremony.

Perhaps those seeking to make a home in England want to find out more about out tradition of belief in God when they learn the words of our National Anthem, which is a prayer to God for our Sovereign.

Perhaps they know the words of that prayer better than many people who were born in England.

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Perhaps they also understand that faith in God is not a strange thing for any nation to put at the centre of its life.

Dates for your diary

A Church Near You

Do make use of this website for up-to-date information about events and services taking places in churches in your vicinity.

'How the Victorians transformed the Church', Wednesday 29 May, 7pm

At the end of this month, the Revd Prof. William Whyte of the University of Oxford is giving what promises to be an engaging lecture at St Bartholomew's Church, Ann Street, Brighton, as part of that parish's 150th anniversary celebrations. Tickets cost £5 per person, with no advance booking required.

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