There have been a number of occasions where, as a parish priest on a pastoral visit, I have been ushered into a sitting room and greeted by the rattle of bone china tea cups and the sight of biscuits laid out exactly on a patterned bone china plate. Coming from a family where the bone china heirloom has never left the cupboard, I have been very aware on these occasions that as a woman of the cloth I was being afforded 'the very best'. A cup of tea and biscuits, or a cup of tea and cake have, over the generations, become the symbols of welcome and hospitality.
Each family, geographical region and country have their own customs around that cup of tea. Spending six years in Yorkshire I became accustomed to both the warm hospitality of tea in people's homes, and the treat of afternoon tea at Bettys. As a reminder of her university days in York my sister buys Yorkshire tea deliberately! I remember also a college mission in Filey which evolved totally around eating and drinking - mainly cake and tea, and yes, it was served in green cups after every church service.
At home in Billericay a cup of tea is served ten minutes before the evening meal, as well as at 4pm in the afternoon and 7am in the morning. This evokes even more memories, of waking up as a child at my grandmothers house, where there was no heating in the bedroom, to a yellow plastic mug of tea and a slice of heavily buttered bread. A real treat that warmed us up before getting out of bed.
I moved a bit into a coffee phase for a while, but have now become a regular tea drinker again - not before an evening meal however, but first thing in the morning, and during the day; not in cups but in mugs. Mugs in recent years have turned beverages from being symbols of hospitality and ritual, to drinks that bring comfort and sustenance. Perhaps that is why my childhood experience at my grandmothers remains with me? It is very rare now that the bone china greets the archdeacon in a home (although it is still rattling around in high places) and that is a good thing. Nothing beats pouring someone a mug of (fairtrade) tea, and sitting together discussing a concern, or a story, or sharing a task. A mug of tea helps a quiet time, somehow allows God in and makes whatever time it takes to drink it a special moment. So for me, in offering hospitality myself to other clergy, the phase 'more tea, Vicar?' has a very different feel.