Final Lent Course - Asylum (and what next..)
Final Lent Course - Asylum
So last night we gathered again for our Lent Course - ‘Are we washing our hands of England’s poor?’.
Tonight we talked around the issue of asylum. The first part of our discussion was helping us to understand the terminology and definition of some of the words we were using - asylum, migrant, refugee. What do these words really mean? Who is an asylum seeker? What circumstances have led women and men to be labeled in this way?
Did we know any asylum seekers or refugees? We didn’t. We considered why.
And we asked - but what is the issue here? We understood that people under genuine threat of persecution should be welcomed into this country. We should, as a nation, be hospitable. But we recognised that some seek to come and live in this country for other reasons - more about economic advantage that for protection. The system to grant asylum must be fast and fair and place the human subject at its heart. We agreed.
Next we considered how we as a church welcomed the stranger. We recalled an incident when a handbag was stolen from church after a service. We never discovered who took the handbag but a young homeless man, who chatted amiably to several members of the congregation before quietly leaving, became suspect number one. We have no evidence as to whether or not it was him. But the incident put us on alert - perhaps in a good way. Let’s be alert to the stranger, to talk to them, perhaps to keep an eye on them - in a positive way. But to be hospital and to welcome.
Having met for five weeks we reflected on what we should do next. We want to see St Paul’s looking out and serving both its community and the community beyond our immediate neighbourhood. We will do several practical things - particularly to hear from and support those in our church that are already serving our community - those who are Street Pastors, work at the Night Shelter, are mentors and counsellors and the many other things we know people do. And perhaps, we will seek to establish a small fund to help local people and organisations. We want to do more.
What the Lent Course seems to have given us is renewed drive to look outward - beyond our individual needs and the needs of our local church to the wider community and those who look to us for help. Perhaps this will be through pausing, reflecting and looking out and affirming that we are not, indeed, washing our hand’s of England’s poor.