At around 9:30pm the other evening a man came to the door. "Let me in!" he shouted aggressively, and then, as if it would help his case, he added "it's Mark". I could see through the opaque glass window of the locked door that he was a big man; he sounded drunk, and I don't know anyone called Mark, so I said "No, I'm not going to let you in - you're at the wrong house!", assuming he'd misidentified where he was.
Now when something like this happens, various thoughts flash through the mind very quickly. I'm a Christian - I'm a priest - does that mean I should always open my door to strangers? No, don't unlock the door, the children could be endangered. There's a Stanley knife on the sidetable - should I move it/hide it/keep hold of it? What if he got in - what would I do?
My husband came downstairs to see what was the cause of the raised voices, and he, too, said loudly: "You're at the wrong house, mate!". Mark hung round our door for a good 15 minutes, occasionally wandering down the drive shouting and coming back to try the door handle. We had phoned the police, who said that under no circumstances should we unlock the door, and by the time the patrol car arrived, Mark was gone, into the night, and we haven't seen him again.
When something like this happens, it feels as if your secure domestic invulnerability-bubble has burst. And something else begins to dawn on us. Sometime over the course of this year, God willing, we will be moving house, into a vicarage, when I begin my first incumbency. Right now we live in the house we've lived in for 11 years, a normal suburban house. When we move into a vicarage, it is often signposted 'The Vicarage', and it's usually next door to the church. Will we have any semblance of a domestic bubble then? Will strangers be knocking on the door on a regular basis? How will the family cope if/when that happens?
Of course, this isn't the first time I've thought about this. From the beginning of priestly vocational discernment, we are encouraged to reflect hard on the reality that this calling will demand a level of availability. And in my curacy, my training incumbent has told stories of times when strangers have come to his vicarage door and he has given them food. And the bible gives examples of God's desire that hospitality is shown to strangers, for example Abraham and Sarah inviting the three strangers in, Genesis 18. And Hebrews 13:2 - "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."
I guess I'll never know whether our 'Mark' was an angel in disguise. But I'm thankful the event ended without violence, and I'm thankful for the calming influence of the two policemen who came round. There has to be a difference between welcoming strangers on the one hand, and foolishly putting your family in danger on the other. This is another one of those 'boundaries' issues that keep cropping up as I learn through this curacy. Boundaries around and between my home and family and ministry, alongside the calling to be open and generous with hospitality to all. Praying for wisdom and discernment.