Last summer, my husband and I vacationed with our youngest son in Paris. At one point, we were so tired of walking that we sat down on the grass in one of the few parks. There was a group of young Parisian children sitting nearby with their camp counsellors. I smiled to myself as I noted that all the children had put aside their usual “haute cuisine” for hamburgers and fries that they had purchased at the McDonald’s just a block away. So much for cultural diversity!
As we sat there, I reflected on another story that took place under the food chain’s famous golden arches. A friend once told me of a time that he visited a McDonald’s near an interstate highway in the Deep South of the United States. As he approached the counter to order, the entire restaurant went silent. Sensing that something was wrong, my friend looked down to check that his belt was well buckled and that there were no stains on his shirt. He looked up awkwardly. “Am I in the right place?” he asked.
“Yes,” smiled the McDonald’s employee, his gleaming white teeth contrasting well against his chocolate brown coloured skin. “You’re not from here, are you?” asked the employee.
“No, I’m from Canada,” replied my friend. As my friend turned to sit down with his tray and hamburger in hand, he finally realized why everyone had become momentarily silent. He and his wife were the only Caucasians in the restaurant. At that moment, he knew what it was like to feel different from everyone else. It was a humbling experience.
Most recently, I came upon a third McDonald’s story that I would also like to share. It is a story of the generosity and compassion of a young woman. As the woman stands in line, she notices that everyone is backing away from her. She looks around and quickly realizes why.
Behind her are two homeless gentlemen who have evidently not bathed recently. She notes that one of the men has beautiful blue eyes. The men discuss quietly the fact that they only have enough coins for coffee. As the woman orders her food, she requests two extra breakfasts on a separate tray for them.
When she delivers the tray to the gentlemen, the man’s beautiful blue eyes well up with tears and he thanks her sincerely. “God is here working through me to give you hope,” she answers. The man wipes away a tear as he feels the warmth of her unconditional acceptance.
Throughout our lives, we will meet and interact with thousands of people. Their diversity may surprise us initially, but our shared humanity will connect our souls if we keep an open heart. Let us not miss these golden opportunities to greet and get to know one another. Let us not miss these golden opportunities to bless others and be blessed.
As followers of Christ, we are called to welcome and respect one another as we support each other in life, fellowship and our faith. Within the Parkdale family, this means fostering an authentic, supportive worship environment among people who differ in experience, education, age, gender, orientation, skin color, ethnic background, mental and physical ability, mental and physical health, spiritual maturity, marital or family status, as well as all the other ways in which we differ.
With this in mind, inclusive individual behaviors within a diverse congregation may include keeping an open mind, inviting feedback and opinions, exercising patience, and saying thanks. At the congregational level, the growing Parkdale family has made huge intercultural progress during the past decade by singing hymns and praying in different languages on various occasions. As well, Parkdale’s Celebrating our Cultures international dinner and Martin Luther King Junior service have become popular annual events.
As an intercultural community of faith, Parkdale is delighted to join other Canadians in recognizing this month as Asian Heritage Month. Never heard of this celebration? Briefly, a motion to recognize May as Asian Heritage Month was moved by the Honorable Vivienne Poy and unanimously adopted by the Senate in 2001, then signed in 2002. For information regarding local events, I invite you to visit the Ottawa Asian Heritage Month Society’s website at www.asianheritagemonth.net/.
In closing, know that whatever your socio-economic status, the colour of your skin, your abilities and your cultural heritage, you are always in the right place when you are at Parkdale.
Barbara Hennessy, Chair