In the midst of all the hassle of moving, I forgot to tell you that I formally became a British citizen a month ago.
With 35 other people from all over the world, I attended a ceremony in a lovely country house hotel near Crewe. With a serious face and a polished script the Registrar exhorted us to take seriously the gravity of what we were doing and to celebrate this new start we were making. At the end we were encouraged to aspire to make a contribution to the well being of our new country.
For the people around me it was an exciting new beginning, the chance to stay and put down roots, work and make a new life radically different from the one that they had left behind.
As I listened to all the grand words, I began to ponder my own journey to this point. Why was I doing this?
My fresh start was made a long time ago. On a rainy June morning I entered the immigration hall at Heathrow worried about whether all my documents were in order and I could answer all the questions that might be put to me. I needn’t have worried as the only question the bemused immigration officer asked me was, “Why?”.
In the intervening years, I have tried to work for the good of my community. I’ve paid my taxes, raised my family and been a good neighbour. Somewhere along the way, I stopped being this foreign born person who came from somewhere else and became someone who is from here. Now when I go “home” I feel foreign , out of step and have to keep asking people for clarification. In my little sleepy northern town when people ask me where I am from, I want to say, “I’m from here”, because I am.
A helpful biblical image I have come to appreciate over time comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,
Paul is writing to a predominately gentile congregation who embraced the gospel, lived it and made it the centre of their lives. And yet, they always felt on the outside. Ironically in the beginning following Jesus was for Jews first and others second. But Paul, keen that no one should find themselves excluded from God’s fellowship, taught that all the barriers were broken down now. The church was home for anyone who wanted to put down those roots.
You can live as a stranger and alien for only so long. If you can’t settle, it’s time to move on. But if you can, then put down the roots and join the party. A passport can’t define who you are. Home can only be where your heart is happy to rest. I’ve discovered that my heart is at home here.
A surprise, but a pleasant one.