This Sunday, St Michael’s is creating space for Asylum Welcome, an Oxford-based charity. We are supporting Asylum Welcome in their amazing work helping asylum seekers and refugees to make some sense of new and confused surroundings. Many of their clientele are political and religious refugees, fleeing from persecution and danger. Upon arrival in the UK, they face an uncertain future without shelter, kin or comfort. Sometimes they lack knowledge of the law, language or financial entitlement.
Asylum means, ‘without a place of refuge.’ Churches which respond to Jesus’ revolutionary message attempt to create places of sanctuary, providing refuge and hospitality to all who are in need. The vocation of the Church is to open up such spaces:
“Sanctuary has two meanings: the primary meaning comes from the Latin root word, sanctus, meaning ‘holy.’ So the first meaning is ‘a sacred space,’ and deriving from this comes the secondary meaning: ‘a place of refuge,’ a place where someone on the run can escape to.” (Christopher Jamison OSB, Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, 2006)
The mission and values of Asylum Welcome could also become the modus operandi of a healthy church. Firstly, to view Christian ministry as the celebration of our common humanity, that we are all one people, part of a local and global community. Secondly, to understand that a fair and compassionate society provides rights and opportunities for all people. Thus social justice is linked to mission and outreach. God is found in the stranger, in the abused, in the ostracised. We have a job to do – creating places of sanctuary in which God is recognised!
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