UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
A 9/11 ceremony in Gander, N.L., in 2002. Photo by Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Spirit Story

Grateful to be here

By Mardi Tindal

We didn’t know what to expect from one another. As theme speaker and facilitator, I stood in front of 80 strangers gathered for a three-day clergy conference. Would my offering meet their need?

Normally, my retreat participants know what to expect and have chosen to be there. This group, by contrast, had no idea what they were getting into and felt obliged to attend. The pressure was on to make this time worthy of their participation.

I began with a poem by Jane Hooper. “Please come home” is her poetic refrain. Flowing from one stanza to the next, the recited invitation becomes slower and deeper: a call to come home to ourselves, to others and to whom we truly are as people who belong to God and Earth.

After some small-group discussion, I invited comments. Susan was one of the first to speak. She talked about how hard it was to contemplate words inviting her to “come home” when in fact, she remarked frankly, she’d much rather be at home.

My heart sank. Then I had a flashback to the many times I’ve been tempted to reject whatever gift was being offered in the present moment because I was preoccupied with what I’d rather be receiving elsewhere. Home is my favourite place too; I’m drawn to what is familiar. John L. Bell’s hymn We Will Take What You Offer started circling my heart as I considered how I might respond to Susan’s resistance. What might I offer — and receive — in this moment?

But then Susan’s remarks took a positive turn. She recalled being moved by the musical Come From Away and wondered aloud about the choice 7,000 travellers were faced with on Sept. 11, 2001, when they landed unexpectedly in Gander, N.L. Some were returning from travels abroad, and many were worried about family members back home. Would they focus on being stuck on the Rock when they would rather be at home themselves — or would they receive what was being offered in Gander? Would they choose there or here?

Many of us have heard stories of the lifelong friendships begun in Gander over those dramatic days. The “plane people,” as they were called, arrived from more than 90 countries and had diverse dietary needs and religious practices. As Claude Elliott, the mayor of Gander, told The New Yorker, “We started off with 7,000 strangers, but we finished with 7,000 family members.”

There’s nothing better than Newfoundland hospitality for transforming strangers into family. And yet every day, I miss opportunities to accept such hospitality. Every smile or invitation presents me with a choice: will I receive what’s offered with gratitude or wish for something else?

Susan articulated her choice that day: she would be here rather than there, and she would receive what was offered. She made it possible for each of us to accept the invitation to be with one another in a more open, gracious way than we might otherwise have been. We became grateful for our time together. It taught us something about being more grateful at home too.

Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!


(Photo: cuatrok77/Flickr via Creative Commons)

Cormorants aren't the devil

by Douglas Hunter

Ontario's proposed new measures amount to a slaughter of an entire native bird species for no scientifically compelling reason, says this writer

Promotional Image


The United Church Observer's editor and publisher, Jocelyn Bell. (Photo: Lindsay Palmer)

The new name of 'The Observer' revealed!

by Jocelyn Bell

"United Church" will no longer be on the cover, but our commitment to sharing denominational news and perspectives remains the same

Promotional Image


Meet beloved church cats Mable and Mouse

by Observer Staff

They're a fixture of Kirk United Church Centre in Edmonton.

Promotional Image


February 2019

Marriage problems: Is the ancient tradition worth saving?

by Pieta Woolley

Bitterness and boredom seem to define many mid-life marriages, but we might not have to settle for apathy ever after


February 2019

A Yukon artist and a Tlingit trapper create this stunning jewelry

by Amy van den Berg

The fur jewelry in Whitehorse boutique store V. Ægirsdóttir is creating a new possibility for future partnerships with the region's trappers


February 2019

Why white people need to stop asking, 'where are you from?'

by Mike Sholars

"...For all intents and purposes, Canada is the only home I really recognize or remember. But none of that matters if I look like I don’t belong, and that single question makes that abundantly clear every single time."

Promotional Image