Church as sanctuary to refugees

The Bishop of Manchester calls for prayer, friendship and taking a stand against hostility.

Ahead of a conference to help equip churches to offer a welcome to people seeking refuge, the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, speaks of why Christians are mandated to offer welcome to all and how churches can support refugees and asylum seekers new to this country.

The conference will be held at Salford University on Saturday 19 November and is organised jointly by the Diocese of Manchester and Greater Together Manchester. The event will update delegates on the ‘refugee crisis’, the government’s response both locally and nationally, and the complexities of the UK asylum system.

Delegates will have the opportunity to attend a number of workshops, including:

• People Welcoming People: becoming a welcoming church
• Legal Matters: understanding the law on asylum
• Accommodating unaccompanied minors
• Understanding Community Sponsorship
• Models of Welcoming Newcomers
• What is Trauma? Looking at mental health and the asylum process
• Hosting the Destitute
• Supporting Christian converts with their asylum case
• Campaigning for Change
• 28 Days: supporting the transition from Asylum Seeker to Refugee
• Understanding Islam

This event is open to all and costs £10 per person to cover the cost of providing lunch. Booking is essential via…on-27599182899

For further information, contact Lily Axworthy, Greater Together Manchester on 0161 828 1409

Solar Panels Serving The Community

A boxing club, a beehive and a drop-in centre for destitute asylum seekers are among projects that have benefitted thanks to income generated by solar panels on a church roof.

Rev John Hughes of St John the Evangelist, Old Trafford, in Manchester, explains how a community energy project based at his church has served the whole community.

Sharing an unfamiliar stretch of road

Hospitals frequently dominate the news agenda but the dedication of key staff to patientsand colleagues is often unsung. Hospital chaplains support people facing themost difficult times of their lives. The Revd Alistair McCulloch, Lead Chaplainat The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust describes the privilege of sharing the journey.

On Monday morning I had a call from our Intensive Care Unit; a young man in great distress needed to speak with me. I arranged to meet with him and we sat together in my office. He began to share his story with me: His partner had been diagnosed with a rare cancer just six months ago at about the time they had planned to get married. She had rapidly deteriorated and was now being treated in Intensive Care. They still wanted to be married and it seemed important to do this as soon as possible. I gently explained the process to him and together we went to get the necessary paperwork. They were married the following afternoon with much relief, but today she is exhausted and the future seems uncertain.

The same afternoon I found myself in a conversation with a woman who had just been told that there were ‘no further treatment options for her’ and that she had only a few months left to live. She particularly wanted to talk with me about what would happen to her when she died and asked me more than once: ‘Do you believe in heaven?’ As she began to share her story with me it became clear that her anxiety was not really for herself but rather for her husband who had himself died from cancer within the last few months. She was missing him desperately, especially because she was now unable to share the news of her devastating diagnosis with her lifetime friend and soul-mate. Her anxiety was for himand to know that he was in heaven so that when her own time came she would be at peace in the knowledge that she was going to join him there. It was lovely to be able to re-assure her appropriately and to tell her that ‘whether we live or whether we die’ we are all equally held by God, and held in his love for ever.

We also care for staff: A few months ago one of our team of receptionists was taken ill and after a while in hospital she sadly died. Her close-knit team of colleagues was devastated and many others throughout the hospital were shocked and upset. I know many of our staff really well and soon came to realise that we needed to mark this sad event somehow. Together with the team of receptionists, I organized a memorial service in the hospital chapel which was to be a celebration of their friend’s life. When the time came last week we had a chapel full of her colleagues representing many different professions throughout the hospital. We listened to her favourite songs and to the story of her life; we lit candles for her and said prayers. Of course this was a sad occasion but the mood was also positive, hopeful and, above all, healing.

There is nothing unusual about any of these encounters. For a very brief time, sometimes for a few days or weeks, we share a hard part of a journey with someone. We may be able to give practical help; we may be able to re-assure or to help to improve perspective; we can always listen.

In our chapel at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea we have an icon of St Luke. It is a modern work in a traditional Greek style and shows the saint at work on his great gospel of healing. His book is open at the story of the disciples meeting with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. As they were talking we are told, ‘Jesus himself came near and went with them.’ (Luke 24, 15). Chaplains embody this loving presence – this sense that Jesus is with us on the journey. We do not need to invite him to join us on the road. He is with us already whether we recognise it or not. The main thing is that, like Jesus, we share this unfamiliar stretch of road as a fellow travelling companion. PeopIe trust us and draw us into their lives in a way that, even after many years as a chaplain, I still find to be a huge privilege.

The Revd Alistair McCulloch
Lead Chaplain at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

To protect confidentiality some details have been changed

Becoming Reverend – A Diary

Meet Woody.

Former journalist.

Die-hard Oasis fan.

High energy.

Low sperm count.

Training to be a vicar. Obviously.

Matt Woodcock’s frank, funny real-life diaries reveal what it was like for him to train as a vicar while struggling against all odds to become a father. In them he lays bare his joys and struggles as he attempts to reconcile his calling as a vicar with his life as a party-loving journalist, footy-freak and incorrigible extrovert.

Becoming Reverend is a compelling and original account of how faith can work in the midst of a messy life, combining family, fertility, faith and friendship with the story of a divine – but unlikely – calling.

Find out more about the book and download a short extract for free online at

‘The anxiety and grief is almost tangible in the camp’

Jessica Foster, a curate at St Peter’s, Hall Green, Birmingham, writes about a day trip to the Calais ‘Jungle’ to deliver rucksacks and suitcases in advance of the operation to clear the camp. She wrote this blog the week before the demolition got under way, with contributions from Abdullah Rehman and Fred Rattley.

Sitting in a meeting, planning what we, a group of friends from different faiths who live in south Birmingham could do to support people living in the Calais ‘jungle’ I glance at my phone. There is an appeal for suitcases and rucksacks as thousands of people prepare for an eviction.

I had no idea that two weeks later I would be sitting in a café on the camp, eating a delicious meal of Afghani eggs, spinach and chicken having delivered around 100 pieces of luggage, tents, sleeping bags and some winter clothes to a warehouse in Calais.

The aid was donated by two churches, one church where I am a curate and one free church where another member of the group, Fred, worships.  The loaded minibus was lent to us by Birmingham’s Central mosque, where one of our friends, Abdullah, has many connections.

We only spent about two hours at the camp. We met people there and at the warehouse who had given days, weeks, months and even years to be with and build relationship with this fragile community.

I have talked political footballs before but never have I seen it.  The anxiety and grief is almost tangible among the people in the camp. As we sat with volunteers from the youth service, a stream of young men came and asked for some kind of certainty, hungry for hope, unsettled by the threat of eviction. Bulldozing the jungle is not only about moving people’s location – it is about taking away the infrastructure that offers flimsy support, severing relationships that offer some comfort and support, breaking up communities of people who have roots in the same countries and disrupting the work of schools, libraries, warehouses, faith groups and humanitarian workers.

I was not expecting to spend time at the camp but Fred had a contact there, a young woman from his church, who is working with the youth service.  Fred says:

‘We met Danni who has been working in the Jungle as a volunteer for several months in the role of Female Minors Education Coordinator for the Refugee Youth Service, teaching English to refugee children. We thought we would give her some encouragement, some warm socks and some lactose-free milk as a treat, and in return she took us into the camp and shared something about life there, enabled us to feel the atmosphere and meet a few people, both residents and volunteers. It cannot be overstated how tough life is there and how tense the atmosphere is, with a permanent under-current of violence and oppression where extremely impoverished people anxiously await details of the arrangements for the closure – no one expects a positive ending and there are few causes for hope and optimism.

‘Danni is an extraordinary young woman in her early twenties who saw reports of the camp from her home in Birmingham, responded by making a few visits with donations and then signed up as a volunteer. The experience has inevitably changed her. It was really humbling for three middle aged people to have their safety in the hands of this diminutive young woman who understands how the camp works, knows the unwritten rules, is alert to the danger signals and yet retains an obvious warmth and compassion in her relationships. She is not unique and there are many like her, particularly women, who invest their energies and skills and an enormous amount of emotional energy in the people they support, particularly the young.”

For Abdullah, the collaboration across faiths and the relaxed friendships within our group are a sign of hope in a situation when hope is in short supply.

He says: “We wanted to respond – this led to a last minute scramble for a minibus, all types of bags and tents – but how would this be possible in only a few days?

“It was all possible because Central Mosque allowed us use of the minibus, the amazing Christian community stepped in and collected a van load of bags and tents.  All that was left to do was delivering the aid in the name of God and humanity to the persecuted and less fortunate.

‘The journey across country and into Calais was made by me, Jessica and Fred, a group of cross faith friends who wanted to make a difference and bring hope.  It was a fantastic journey which took us from one country to another within a day, into the unit on the outskirts of the town and finally into the jungle, which was both charming, with a community atmosphere, but also could become sinister and edgy at the drop of a hat as we were about to find out.

“The volunteers at the warehouse were from all over the world and they all helped to unload the bags and, while making us tea, told us of horrific stories of neglect and suffering the refugees faced on a daily basis.  They were amazing, but even more amazing was Danni, the young Christian volunteer who wears her heart on her sleeve, and when taking us into the heart of the jungle was shown amazing affection by the residents of the camp. The community spirit in the jungle was clear to see, but nothing would be possible without the volunteers who are doing all they can to make their lives more bearable in the face of such difficulties and adversity.

“As we drove back, I felt in more connection with my Christian brother and sister, Fred and Jess, and I saw the same humanity in them that I feel in my heart as a Muslim. Then why do we try and separate and differentiate?  I know that through conversations and dialogue we can overcome so much and truly understanding what each other stands for can definitely bring us more closely together. I do not know what will become of the amazing refugees living so desperately, yet smiling, and how they will cope with losing the place they have made home. The jungle is a thriving community and its inhabitants have made it as close to normal that you can get in such circumstances.”

Our little group, Balsall Heath Solidarity, is planning a longer trip to volunteer at the warehouse in December. We would be people from Jewish, Muslim and Christian backgrounds aged from 17 to mid-50s but of course we have no idea if we can go and what will be there by then. But what we do know is that people who we are told are ‘other’ from us can become our good friends. We can share sorrow and joy together as we did in that minibus. We can laugh and weep together. We can be inspired by the faith of the other and celebrate our differences.

The young men we met in the camp are no more ‘other’ than my neighbour in Balsall Heath. The 13-year-old who has experienced unspeakable traumas on a perilous journey has the same emotions as my son.

As Christians we believe we will be judged on how we responded to people who have no clothes, who are hungry and thirsty, who are strangers or imprisoned (Matthew 25 31-46). The faith communities must continue to campaign, the people must pray and we must learn in our neighbourhoods the practice of our faith in hospitality and generosity.

Jessica Foster
Curate at St Peter’s, Hall Green, Birmingham

Greater Manchester Winter Night Shelter

Night shelters supported by Church Urban Fund are to increase their provision to nearly 4,000 bed spaces this winter in response to a growing problem of homelessness.

Greater Manchester Winter Night Shelter will nearly double the length of time it operates to six months when it opens to homeless guests at the end of this month with support from six Church of England host churches. We hear from Rev Ellie Trimble, priest-in-charge of the Church of the Apostles Manchester with St Cuthbert Miles Platting, who talks about her churches’ involvement in the shelter.

‘A vision of a home for every child who needs one’

Joy Pollock writes about the launch of the charity Home for Good in Worcester at a special all age service in Worcester Cathedral. The charity works with churches to raise awareness of the need for foster and adoptive parents and to encourage families to provide loving homes for children in care.

As a kid, I used to go to Spring Harvest with my family year after year. So I grew up with an identity as a ‘Whizz Kid’, and then as part of the ‘Glory Company’ led by Ishmael. He made the Bible come alive through song and ‘Father God’ was one of many that I still remember and sing to my kids now. It permeated my being and I grew up secure in the knowledge of my identity in Christ.

Father God, I wonder how I managed to exist
Without the knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care.
But now I am your child, I am adopted in your family,
And I can never be alone,
‘Cause Father God, you’re there beside me.

Fast forward 30 years or so, and I find myself mothering three children. The oldest two – eight and six years old – are birth children, the little one – five months – is our looked after child. Along with my husband, we are a foster family for the local authority.

There are two questions I get asked the most: ‘What made you foster? is one of them. It was always part of God’s plan for our family and the seed was planted when Viv Thomas spoke at our church weekend away about his experiences as a child being in and out of care and finally settling with a Christian foster family. What he said he wanted was a clean home and regular hot meals. It was such a basic need – my house was cleanish and we had a hot supper every single night. I could meet that need for a child. The seed was further watered when I heard Krish Kandiah speak about ‘Home for Good’ one year at Spring Harvest.

Home for Good is a charity with a vision for a home for every child who needs one. In the UK, 4,000 children are waiting for adoption and 9,000 foster families are desperately needed. Home for Good believes that the Church can make a difference. It raises awareness of the need for foster and adoptive parents, encourages families to provide loving homes for the children in care, and equips the Church to offer welcoming communities for them.

Home for Good works on the ground with ‘local movements’ – collections of churches who have caught the vision to see vulnerable children’s lives changed. Here in Worcester, there are now eight churches with a desire to make a difference, and we want that number to grow. Our launch event at Worcester Cathedral, marks the beginning of a story here in Worcester to raise awareness of the need and engage people in fostering and adoption and support.

Which leads me to the second question I get asked most frequently – how can I give them up? Well, it’s hard. Very hard. But, children who have suffered loss, trauma and neglect need me to love them more than I need to protect my own feelings. They need commitment from me and to feel a sense of belonging.  And the support and scaffolding I have experienced from my church family at times of loss and stress has been such a blessing. Freezer meals, babysitting, chocolate, nappies, baby clothes and equipment at the start of a placement, and cards, flowers and even a spa day at the end of a placement have all characterised Christ’s love to me. So, the invitation to be involved in Home for Good through the local church is one we must accept. All Christians are adopted, and the church must bear witness to this new family into which Christians are adopted. Let’s offer an extraordinary, radical alternative family where all are welcome by God’s invitation.

Joy Pollock
Local Authority foster carer and a member of All Saints Church, Worcester  

Half-Term Meals

Volunteers coordinated by St Mark’s Church in Milton Keynes will feed 300 children this half term in three primary schools and a children’s centre.

Across Milton Keynes 1 in 5 children live in poverty. This means they struggle for food, or clothing, or warmth. When a child is hungry, they graduate primary school two years behind their peers. If this continues, they will graduate secondary school with the education levels of a 13 year old…simply because they are hungry.
Make Lunch MK is run by St Mark’s church as part of their f1VE initiative, working with those 1 in 5 children and their families. Based in local schools during school holidays, families are invited to enjoy a free, hot and healthy lunch to help them plug the gap that is created when school breakfast clubs and lunches are not available.

The Revd Paul Oxley talks about how his church’s involvement in meals provision for children has grown over the last year.

The Continuing trial of Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi’s troubles began in June 2009 in her village, Ittan Wali, in rural Punjab, a patchwork of lush fields and dusty streets. Asia’s was the only Christian household in her village

She was picking berries alongside local Muslim women when a row developed over sharing water.

Days later, the women claimed she had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. Soon, Asia Bibi was being pursued by a mob.

“In the village they tried to put a noose around my neck, so that they could kill me,” she said.

The police were called. They came and after removing Asia and her family from the village they charged her for blasphemy on the basis of accusations from other villagers. Despite her denials she was convicted and sentenced to death.

The imam at the village mosque says he cried with joy when the death sentence was passed on Asia Bibi. He helped to bring the case against her and says she will be made to pay, one way or the other.

“If the law punishes someone for blasphemy, and that person is pardoned, then we will also take the law in our hands,” he said.

Another radical cleric promised 500,000 Pakistani rupees to anyone prepared to “finish her”. He suggested that the Taliban might be happy to do it.

Over the Christmas period, political parties were out on the streets, holding strikes and threatening anarchy if Asia Bibi was freed, or if there was any attempt to amend the blasphemy law.

In 2010, Asia Bibi was tried and sentenced to death.

In response, Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of the Punjab region in Pakistan, spoke out on behalf Bibi, suggesting the country’s blasphemy laws were outdated and being used to settle scores against Christians in areas wholly unrelated to religion.

On January 4, 2011, one of Taseer’s bodyguards shot him 26 times with a submachine gun as he was returning to his car after meeting a friend for lunch. After the shooting, the bodyguard, Malik Qadri, threw his weapon down and put his hands up when one of his colleagues aimed at him. He reportedly pleaded to be arrested.

Qadri stated that he killed Taseer due to his vocal opposition to the blasphemy law in Pakistan. When supporters of Qadri blocked police attempting to bring him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi, some supporters even showered him with rose petals. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was hanged earlier this year. Following his execution protestors called for him to be given national status as a martyr.

A suicide bombing in March of this year in the north-western town of Shabqada which killed 14 people and wounded nearly 30 others was claimed to have been carried out as a direct reprisal for Qadri’s execution.

One of those who spoke out most vocally against Salman Taseer’s assassination was the Pakistan Government’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti.

Mr Bhatti, himself a Christian, also spoke out on behalf of Asia Bibi, arguing that she should win her appeal against her conviction, or be pardoned by the President of Pakistan. He argued that Asia Bibi is one of dozens of innocent people who are accused every year under the blasphemy law. As a consequence he received numerous death threats. He spoke about these during a television interview at the end of February 2011.

Less than a week after this interview, on the 2nd of March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated.

According to the BBC, he was travelling to work through a residential district, having just left his mother’s home, when his vehicle was sprayed with bullets.

Bhatti was taken to a nearby hospital but he was pronounced dead on arrival. The group Tehrik-i-Taliban told the BBC that they carried out the attack, because Bhatti was a “known blasphemer.”

Asia Bibi still remains on death row. In October 2014 the Lahore High Court rejected her appeal against the death sentence. If the sentence is carried out she will become the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy.

Asia’s husband, Ashiq, and her two young daughters, Isha and Isham, deal daily with the uncertainty of what awaits them when they step outside their home, as they have also become targets for violence. In the first two years that Asia was in prison, safety concerns have forced them to move more than five times.

Today (October 13 2016) Asia Bibi’s case came to the Supreme Court in Pakistan. News reports suggest her appeal has been delayed with no new date set for a hearing, according to Al Jazeera.

Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman told the court he had to recuse himself from the case: “I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that,” he told the court.

Asia Bibi’s wait continues.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Australian branch of Amnesty International  are just two of the groups worldwide who continue to campaign for Asia Bibi. In joining our voices with theirs we are able to let Asia Bibi know she is not forgotten and that in her continuing fight for justice she is not alone.

As justice is delayed and justice is denied, our prayers for her continue.

Arun Arora, Director of Communications, Archbishops’ Council