Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford has blogged about how churches can help the most vulnerable refugees. He said:
Helping to support displaced people into a sustainable, long-term future amidst a strange culture is not for the short term and it is not for the faint-hearted. It is brilliant if we churches can provide premises, or money, or a friendly welcome: much better if we can commit to long-term, costly partnership with local authorities and charities to go the distance.
After last summer’s headlines that drew attention to displaced refugees in Syrian, the UK Government committed to resettle 20,000 of the most needy traumatised and displaced people by 2020, with one thousand welcomed across the UK by the end of last year. Bishop Stephen noted that “5000 a year for four years takes more planning than a quick sprint before Christmas”.
Here in the Chelmsford diocese we have been humbled and delighted to be part of this effort. Our initial fund raising for the resettlement of refugees was enormously successful. One of our churches in Colchester is at the forefront of welcoming and housing Syrian refugees. We have set up a group in the diocese to oversee this ministry. We are building some excellent partnerships with local authorities.
But much more is needed, and this is where faith communities can really make a difference and put local, warm, welcoming flesh on the bones of statutory structures. Lots of charities and organisations are doing their bit. The National Refugee Welcome Board has 85 local groups leading and coordinating the effort. If there’s one near you, join it.
This is mission. Think of food banks, of street pastors, of church-based debt advice services. The reach of the Gospel grows as people experience the difference God makes in driving people out of their comfort zone and into the places where others need them. We are talking about a careful, realistic, grown-up setting about the task of welcoming Syrian refugees, just people in extreme need with all the complexities and riches of any human being. This is not the church saying ‘look at us being charitable!’, but the people of God letting their deeds speak for Him.
The Government will introduce a community sponsorship scheme. Bishop Stephen says that “churches and many other groups will be able to support particular refugee families financially and by personal support”.
Our involvement in Chelmsford diocese with this painstaking and important work has been a blessing to us as well as a practical help to others, powerfully illustrating the love of God who in Christ was himself an exile and a friend of exiles.
The Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Division has produced a set of factsheets that outline UK Government policy around the Syrian resettlement programme, how resettlement works, local action and campaigning.