Over the Christmas period, Church of England parishes have helped the homeless, the isolated, refugees and vulnerably housed through projects from winter night shelters to buying presents for the children of prisoners and food hampers for families struggling to meet the cost of household bills. In the blog below, three churches and a cathedral describe their experiences hosting large scale Christmas Day lunches and explain how these events have brought communities together.
Lunch for asylum seekers and refugees
Sanctus, a social enterprise based at St Mark’s Church, Stoke-on-Trent, has been hosting a Christmas Day lunch for refugees and asylum seekers over the past four years. This year the event was moved to the local YMCA where there are better kitchen facilities.
Rev Sally Smith, team vicar of St Mark’s and chief executive of Sanctus, said: “We had originally estimated 200 for the lunch but we knew this figure could grow – in the end we were amazed when 360 people turned up including more than 70 extra people attending from Longton, a town four miles away from Stoke. We had put out a press release asking for volunteers to help with transport for people travelling in, and movingly, a local taxi firm run by a Muslim family volunteered and spent a large part of Christmas Day bringing passengers to and from the lunch. The YMCA, in addition to providing staff and the venue, also lent us three of their minibuses to pick up passengers in the Hanley area of Stoke. We had around 40 volunteers, including the Bishop of Stafford, Geoff Annas and his wife and members of the Bishop’s staff and the Archdeacon of Stoke on Trent, Matthew Parker and his wife and three children. We have several Syrian families who have been resettled in the area this year and they all came. Charities, churches and other groups in the area donated presents for the children, including St Mark’s in Basford, near Stoke, who traditionally collect gifts at their crib service. Out of 360 people there were more than 100 children present at the lunch and they all received several gifts. There was carol singing, face painting and games for the children – and there was still food left over at the end of the day. It was a fabulous event.”
Christmas dinner prepared by an inter faith group of cooks with food from the Real Junk Food Project
All Hallows, Leeds welcomed 120 guests for Christmas lunch
Rev Heston Groenewald, vicar of All Hallows, said: “We have a weekly ‘Syrian Kitchen’ in our café at All Hallows, and on Christmas Day our Syrian chefs gave us an amazing gift. They joined others in the kitchen to cook an amazing ‘fusion’ feast: traditional Christmas lunch alongside Syrian chicken, vegetables and delicious desserts. It was a marvellously multi-faith affair: for the first hour of the day, Jewish and Muslim cooks outnumbered Christians.
“After morning worship, we set up tables in the church and around 120 guests sat down to eat. Around half were Syrian Muslim friends. Ours is a wonderfully diverse parish, so we were visited by numerous other Muslim friends and neighbours. This included the imams of both local mosques, who brought us their blessing and wished us Happy Christmas. We had an enormous number of gifts donated by guests and by Leeds City Council. Some of these were left over from a party two weeks earlier, celebrating two Syrian friends receiving Leave to Remain. We had more presents than people could open. It was a very, very special day for us.”
Lunch for people alone at Christmas
Liz Bloomer, churchwarden of St Michael and All Angels Church in Stourport, Worcestershire, writes about how the church hosted a dinner for people on their own on Christmas Day.
“We had about 60 people for the lunch with at least 20 people helping out. We extended it this year and took meals to people who were housebound too. People in the town helped us with containers and transport and their generosity was amazing. They really took this event to heart and gave it 100% support. We had a whole team of people ferrying people to and from the meal. Tesco and the Coop provided all the food and accompaniments, including crackers, table cloths and bottles of wine – there was nothing for us to buy, everything was provided for. It was a wonderful occasion, better than last year as we have revamped kitchen facilities with decent ovens and an industrial dishwasher, paid for from fundraising and a loan from Worcester Diocese. We now have such a wonderful community resource with our kitchen that this raises the possibility of further similar events.”
Canon Peter Leonard, from Portsmouth Cathedral said: “We had 60 people at the lunch, with around 47 guests and the rest volunteers. The guests ranged from elderly people on their own to homeless people and a family with eviction hanging over them. On Christmas Eve we received a vast amount of food from the supermarkets. We had vegetable soup, prepared on Christmas Day morning, followed by turkey, and then fruit crumble for pudding, with coffee, mince pies and chocolates. In addition to the lunch, guests went away with armfuls of food, including vegetables and bread. Parents from a local school had put together a big sack of gifts for the lunch and the guests were given gifts too. During the lunch, we found that one of the guests had been missing hospital appointments that he really needed to make. Five people at the lunch said they would make sure that he got lifts to the hospital to ensure he never misses any more appointments. It was a wonderful event, the highlight of the Christmas season – the generosity at the lunch was incredible. We had so much donated, it was overwhelming. We will make sure we do this again next year.”