I got a text message out of the blue on Thursday evening from a friend who was feeling the pressure in the maternity ward in Altnagelvin hospital.
The poor man was waiting anxiously on his wife expecting their first child. Hailing from Drumquin I met the Tyrone native on the World Youth Day pilgrimage in Cologne, Germany in 2005. Despite his origins we struck up a great friendship and I officiated at his wedding last year. So ten years down the line from having first met and developed a friendship and one year on from the wedding, the Drumquin man was feeling lost in the lights of Derry and asked would I have a room available? His wife hadn’t quite gone into labour so he wasn’t permitted to stay on the pre natal ward.
The expectant father was looking for somewhere near at hand so he wouldn’t be too far away in case he got a call in the middle of the night. It was an easy invitation to extend, offering a room for the night especially as my housekeeper had done all the hard work in making the guest room ready. So just before midnight my friend arrives with a week’s growth on his face, hair dishevelled, bloodshot eyes and I started to wonder who was going through the labour. Trying to be a good host I offered the traumatised man a cup of tea and unfortunately he accepted. So we sat in the kitchen as I struggled with the workings of a kettle and trying to cope with reaching up into cupboards and shelves in search of rumoured cups and tea bags. As I guardedly watched the Tyrone native work his way through my chocolate biscuit collection I distracted myself through conversation. Breakfast revolved around the same routine, thankfully my friend didn’t ask for toast of else I would have phoned the housekeeper of help.
After a restless night spent texting his wife and with some sleep the expectant father resumed his vigil in the hospital. I was glad to have been able to offer him a room and a welcome. Otherwise as a stranger in town he might have had to go home, some distance away or book into a hotel.
Welcome is one of the key elements stressed by Jesus as he searches out the lost, the rejected, those who find themselves on the margins. Often this is where God will be found, where humanity suffers the most. The challenge as a church, as the people of God is to reach out and follow God’s initiative. Instead of building walls and trying to control access to God we should be sharing the medicine of God’s mercy and love. God’s house is built through the living stones of those men and women who have been called to share in the gift of salvation. The challenge is helping one another to find our place in the church by overcoming the challenges which prevent us from embracing God’s love.