Summer arrived a week ago I watched the solstice sun set and full moon rise over the city. The park near our home is well used by people in the neighbourhood, particularly by families who have moved here recently from other countries. Our city was very white when I came here 40 years ago but now we have a diversity of cultures represented. The newer immigrants tend to live in nearby apartments and row housing without the benefit of large yards. That could be one reason they come and spend evenings in the park. I admire their sense of family and community. We shop at a nearby international food market for items like injera, less common spices and pulses and other treats from the middle east and south-east Asia. The young, friendly cashiers in their hijabs speak English without an accent while shoppers from older generations prefer to use their native languages in the store. It does not take long to assimilate children to a new culture but it is harder for adults to find a place in the community.
I go to the Apple store at the mall a couple of times a year. It is my favourite retail experience of all time. The store is inviting, the staff are helpful but not pushy, you can use the displayed devices for as long as you want, children are welcome, questions are answered, lessons are available, and the customer is truly most important. It is an ideal set up for meaningful social interaction and I think churches could take some tips from the store. Come in, ask questions, share, learn, discuss face to face rather than looking at the back of heads in front of you. And all of this is done without pressure or judgment as employees are not allowed to speak negatively about each other or the customer. It reminds me of “The Great Hall” in C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity where people from all walks of life and different “rooms” come to discuss spiritual things together.
An “Apple store” approach would be useful in getting to know and understand our neighbours from other countries. We all have things in common. The fear-mongering rhetoric concerning immigrants in America and in Great Britain during the recent Brexit referendum is destructive and regressive. We need to find a common table and take time to get to know and value the people in our neighbourhoods. I am proud that Canada continues to accept refugees and immigrants as it has for many years. But it takes work to build friendships and community with mutual respect and trust.