Is it time to ask better questions?

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

'Where is it that you call home?'. I wonder how you would answer that question.

It's so much gentler, more polite I think, than asking 'where do you come from?'. That question declares that clearly you don't come from around here so you must be a stranger in these parts. You are not 'one of us.'

So I'm grateful to Chine McDonald, author of 'God is Not a White Man', for suggesting the much more 'open' question.

She explains "I decided that – even if I detected someone with a different accent from mine or heard a name I was unfamiliar with – I would not ask someone where they were from. It was up to that person to tell me, if they wanted to.

"For some people, their heritage or culture or where they live will easily slip out into conversation. It is not something they hide. But, for others, there might be, for whatever reason, a reluctance to mark themselves out as other."

This could be, McDonald writes, because they feel self-conscious about their immigrant status or because their family history is not straightforward, so they do not actually know their own heritage.

Instead, when she asks about home, "I have loved to hear the different answers people give. Yes, they might tell me where they were born, or where they currently live, or they might tell me about their ancestral home – a place they might never have visited – or they might tell me about the people they love most in the world."

All of us have roots in several places, with relatives whose homes are many miles away, and possibly across oceans. Fridge magnets that say home is where the Wi-Fi recognises you, or 'where they have to take you in', widely miss the point.

Just now, the UK is welcoming British nationals from Hong Kong, families who have left the former colony after the Chinese government introduced laws severely restricting human rights.

It's good to see local churches helping to welcome the men, women and children who have crossed continents under the UK government's resettlement scheme. Sadly, at times, churches have failed to welcome those who have arrived from overseas.

Chine McDonald, director of the Theos think tank, firmly believes that "church should feel like home. To all of us. No matter our background, the colour of our passport, the colour of our skin, or the place in which we were born," but "for many Black Christians who attend white-majority churches, church does not feel like home."

The Hebrew Scriptures encouraged God's people to remember that they were once strangers in foreign lands, and to welcome those from afar.

In the gospels, Jesus underlines the importance of loving your neighbour, as you love yourself. He called on his followers to make hospitality one of their core values. It's a way that we open our lives to others.

So where's home for me? It's the place where I can feel at home, where I am known and where I can be accepted without pretence.

It's my prayer that churches may be places of welcome and hospitality for everyone. Acknowledging the mistakes of the past, and working to create a more welcoming environment for everyone, could be helped by learning to ask different questions.

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Hertfordshire, UK and the author of 'Responding to Post-truth.'