How inter faith groups are helping refugees, the vulnerable and the isolated over Christmas

Muslim groups in London were in the news this week for donating 10 tonnes of food to help feed the homeless at Christmas in centres organised by the charity Crisis. Here we examine how the faith communities, including Christians and Muslims, are working together over the Christmas period to provide meals and hampers to groups including refugees, the isolated and the elderly and vulnerable. 

Christmas dinner organised by Muslim charities

Muslim charities in Bradford are brightening up Christmas for lonely Christians and being helped by the Bishop of Bradford, the Right Revd Toby Howarth, writes Chris Tate, Director of Communications for Leeds Diocese.

A free Christmas Dinner is being offered to elderly Christians who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day, said Sofia Buncy, northern community development officer for the charity Muslim Hands.

”The day consists of carol singing, a Christmas meal and seasonal fun at Bradford’s Khidmat centre, where we will be joined by the Bishop of Bradford, Toby Howarth and his family, representatives from the Sikh and Hindu community and of course Khidmat centre volunteers,” she said.

“Christmas is a special time for everyone and it’s awful to think people might be alone.

“And in Bradford the faith communities really do support and help each other  – all the time and with a humbleness.”

In a separate initiative, Christmas hampers are being sent out to refugee and asylum seeker families, so they can have a family meal together with dignity in their homes.

Bishop Toby said he was looking forward to lending a hand in another example of multi-faith co-operation in Bradford.

“There are so many people joining together, simply to do some good in this city and beyond,” he said.

Christmas dinner prepared by an inter faith group of cooks

Every Christmas, the table at All Hallows Leeds groans with food saved from landfill by the Real Junk Food Project or simply left on the vicarage doorstep, like the two ready prepared ducks last Christmas Eve, as if Father Christmas himself had visited.

For there is a touch of magic at work here in this inner city Leeds church. To the outside, they might appear a haphazard group of people thrust together by circumstance and proximity, but look closer and there is deep seated friendship and love. These are refugees from Iran, North Africa, Saudia Arabia and the Mediterranean; students, some Hindus and vulnerable and disadvantaged local people all living alongside the established Muslim community of Hyde Park including  the Syrian community of Leeds.

Some found their way here looking for a conversation class to improve their English, others because they knew they could get a decent meal five days a week in exchange for washing up in the community cafe or a spot of gardening.

There was a big impromptu party last week when news that two members of the church family– one Syrian Muslim, one Saudi Arabian Muslim – had finally been granted Leave to Remain after a long ten year campaign. While local people packed into the church to celebrate this joy, many others still wait to hear their future. Joy and sorrow are close bedfellows at All Hallows.

And on Christmas Day morning, while the church celebrates the birth of Jesus, Muslim, Jewish and Christian friends will be hard at work together in the kitchen chopping and preparing the lunch. For this most special day in the Christian calendar is a day for community, when ten or twelve big tables will be pushed together, 120 chairs nudged up close and the most wonderful feast shared by people from across the miles, across community, across faiths, and across cultures.

Jane Bower is part of the communications team in Leeds Diocese

Christmas hampers for the elderly and vulnerable in Birmingham

In Birmingham people from different faiths across the city regularly come together, motivated by their faith, to care for people who are facing some kind of hardship. In the last few weeks I have been part of  interfaith groups of people have who hosted a party for newly-arrived asylum seekers, taken aid to the ‘jungle’ in Calais, wrapped gifts for refugee families, fund raised for a women’s refuge and this week a group of Christians and Muslims were distributing food hampers to elderly or vulnerable residents in Balsall Heath.

Distribution was sponsored by Jaguar Land Rover and enabled by Balsall Heath Forum, a small organisation that manages to keep in regular contact with the 14,000 people who live in their neighbourhood. As we delivered the parcels we had the chance to chat with people and find out how they were doing. It was clear that behind each door, behind each face, was a world of experience, stories, wisdom and grace.  As one volunteer said during the feedback – we were blessed by the residents, it felt like it was far more beneficial for us than it was for them.

Chatting to the organisers afterwards, their combination of intricate knowledge of their neighbourhood and their deep compassion reminded me of parish life in a small village in the 1980s – when my father was a vicar. While he only had about 1,500 parishoners there was no-one he did not know or nothing that he did not care about. Nowadays the priest looking after those three tiny villages must have another five or six churches in their patch. But knowing people (whether or not they go to church), caring for them in need and enabling others to do the same is still at the heart of the ministry of the Church of England.  And now we have the chance to do it hand in hand with people of different faiths, ethnicities and cultures.

Jessica Foster is a curate at St Peter’s, Hall Green, Birmingham.

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