Church as sanctuary to refugees
From Diocese of Manchester
The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, spoke recently of why Christians are mandated to offer welcome to all and how churches can support refugees and asylum seekers new to this country:
"There is a Biblical mandate. One example is in the Old Testament on the formation of the people of Israel. They were told that they had a special duty towards the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien in their land, the stranger, the person who didn't belong to the community, but who had settled among them. I think we do have a duty of welcome to people who are lawfully here, and they've typically fled horrendous circumstances in their home countries. We're simply carrying out today what God first instructed his people to do several thousand years ago.
"I think beyond that we have developed the notion of sanctuary and that's for those who are in fear and terror who flee for their lives. As a Church, we ought to be a place where some sort of sanctuary is provided. Firstly to care for those in need, and refugees and asylum seekers certainly are in great need. and secondly to speak out and act out against injustice.
"Churches are very well-placed to offer support. Firstly, because of the theological and scripture reasons that I have referred to, but then we are, as churches, present in every community. Wherever refugees, asylum seekers end up, there will be a church that's somewhere close by. In the church that my wife attends a couple of miles away from where we live, they recently began a weekly welcome session for asylum seekers. It's run as part of a government program, so it's entirely in line with what the governments are wanting us to do. It provides a hot lunch and a chance for people to meet and hold conversation in a relaxed and welcoming format. In every community, we've got places that can afford that welcome. We have volunteers, people who have a bit of time on their hands maybe who can be that welcome and help those people.
"I think all that's happened around Calais highlights the fact that this is a politically, very sensitive subject. Governments get very little support in their home countries typically for showing welcome and generosity. There's simply very few votes in that. I think what has happened in Calais these last few weeks has been so clearly unnecessary, particularly the fact that for several months government was really reluctant to be seen to be taking practical steps that were going to encourage people to come to this country, despite the passing of the Dubs Amendment, despite the clear Parliamentary mandate in this country.
"The first thing always for Christians to do is to pray. We hold situations before God and as we do that, we find the world becomes a different place, and we become different people in that world. I would never want to underestimate the absolute centrality of prayer to all that we do. That prayer then helps us, I think, to sustain us for the practical course of action that we can take in many different ways in which a church can host some kind of event or activity on a regular basis that brings together ordinary members of the congregation together with those who are fairly newly arrived in this country, seeking friendship and solace, practical help, and often assistance in improving their English language skills.
"I think there's also something else that's increasingly on my heart, and that is that we all have a role in standing up to some of the negative comments about asylum seekers that we see expressed in public, sometimes in the media, sometimes on social media, sometimes just in the street. We, as Christians, have a position over racism, over other forms of discrimination. We have a locus to stand up to that and to say no. That is not the case, and we don't accept these views."
The Bishops of Manchester and Stockport will host a conference aimed at equipping individuals, churches and communities to respond practically to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers. The conference will be held at Salford University on Saturday 19 November 2016.
More details here.
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