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/ 21 June 2022

Churches across London mark Refugee Week with “Stories of Welcome”

The Diocese of London has teamed up with the Diocese of Southwark and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster to celebrate the welcome that London churches of all denominations offer to all refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, with a programme to mark Refugee Week.

The joint ecumenical event held last night celebrated the work that churches and volunteers do to welcome many different refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, and saw the launch of a number of resources to support and encourage churches to get involved.  There was also powerful testimony given by Maimuna Jowa, originally from the Gambia who has been in the asylum system for over 10 years.

The resources include four films showing case studies of church communities in London and East Surrey welcoming asylum seekers, migrants and refugees from all over the world, which will be released on social media across Refugee Week. The first, which is now available to view here showcases the work of St Paul’s Marylebone, who embraced the opportunity to offer a welcome for Afghan refugees accommodated in a local hotel.

The church was offered as a safe space and, in conversation with the Afghan women, it became a place where they could come together each week and sew clothes. Sewing machines were acquired through a grant from the Benefact Trust, fabric was donated, local churches volunteered to help, and each week between eight and fifteen women came along to be together socially and make their own clothes. The video sees the community at St Paul’s talk about the impact the relationships with the Afghan families have had on the life of the church.

The Revd Clare Dowding, Rector of St Paul’s Marylebone and Area Dean of Marylebone, said:

“It’s a real privilege to see the way in which these relationships have shaped our community and will continue to shape us – both through the legacy of the women’s sewing project, and with the families who have been housed here as we live alongside one another in this parish.”

 At the event, stories were also shared of church communities across London supporting those fleeing war in Ukraine, persecution in Iran, and newly arrived people from Hong Kong.

The Right Revd Paul McAleenan, Auxiliary Bishop for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster in England and Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said:

“As we come to hear these Stories of Welcome, we must remember refugees, migrants and asylum seekers are like ourselves…but their common experience is of being dehumanised.

Welcoming the stranger is integral to the human faith, not an add on. Human beings are of infinite worth and a dignity. Anything that impinges on the humanity of refugees has to be resisted.”

The Right Revd Dr Joanne Woolway Grenfell, Bishop of Stepney in the Diocese of London, said:

“These Stories of Welcome from across London are something to be celebrated.

Refugee Week reminds us of the vital work of supporting refugees migrants and asylum seekers, and encouraging churches to be places of welcome. We know that God looks with compassion on all his children, especially those who are displaced and marginalised.”

The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, said:

“I was glad on World Refugee Day  to stand in solidarity with Bishop Paul and Bishop Joanne, listening to Stories of Welcome, including powerful personal testimony of Maimuna Jawo.

Every single story speaks of hearts that are open to the poor, the lonely and the vulnerable; hearts that rejoice in helping and welcoming, and hearts which are refreshed and renewed by loving service and unexpected blessings of friendship and connection.

Every time we welcome someone into our country, our church communities, our homes and our lives – we are welcoming Christ.”

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