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On the 13th of this month, which we know as October, but also call Black History Month, we will also be focussing on sanctuary. This will be the day, God willing, when we mark our intention to be a place that is open, welcoming, inclusive and intentional about providing a safe place for people seeking asylum and that this should be in the light of our overall approach. In the struggle against the oppressive apartheid system, Nelson Mandela headed up a rainbow coalition from people from different backgrounds. Dr Martin Luther King Jnr also stood side by side with people from backgrounds other than African American.
My point is that in order to welcome some we need to welcome all; in order to welcome all we need to welcome some. If we say we are serious about being welcoming and inclusive, this needs to apply across the board, but sometimes it is good and it is needful to concentrate on and redress imbalances that need addressing.
This is why there is no White History Month! A bias against and disregard for the history and achievements of people of colour needs to be countered.
This is why, as Christians we need to have churches like ours that declare themselves as Churches of Sanctuary to assert that it can be very hard for people seeking asylum to feel welcomed in society today.
Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt and the Old Testament is full of commands to welcome the stranger, the alien, the foreigner:
“Don’t mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself. Remember, you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19.33-34).
“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself” Leviticus 19: 34
In a Church Members’ meeting earlier this year, we affirmed that we would do what we can to live up to the title of Church of Sanctuary”.
We are a church situated in a place where people from all over the world come to live and many of these people are seeking sanctuary, seeking safety because of war or persecution.
Because, as Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand said after the Christchurch massacre, “They are us”. Many of our church members are people who have sought safety here in the UK, or whose family have.
Because the God tells us again and again through Jesus and through the scriptures, that we must welcome the stranger.
What does it mean?
Being a Church of Sanctuary means that we do what we do already. We welcome, we include, we love. We see the humanity in all who come to us. We challenge hostility and hatred. We make space for new people. We are doing this already.
Already we have a Place of Welcome, ESOL classes, a foodbank.
Becoming a Church of Sanctuary means that we become a little bit more intentional about this and make sure that these core Christian values go right across the board.
We will be identifying a couple of people to oversee “Sanctuary” in our church.
On the 13 th October we aim to be formally recognised as a Church of Sanctuary and have Richard Reddie from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland coming to preach.
What can we learn from his life?
Read & Reflect: Read Mark 8:31-38.
Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian, who wrote, spoke and acted against the evil of the Nazi regime.
Bonhoeffer was executed by Nazis in 1945, having been put in a concentration camp. He believed strongly that we should imitate Christ and that the church must at all times be involved in opposing evil, even when this might prove so very costly.
Bonhoeffer wrote: “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”. He wrote and talked about suffering as we really follow Jesus – and Bonhoeffer did this to the extent of being killed as he followed Christ.
Respond: Hateful politics have a louder voice in our world today. What are we, as Christians, going to do about this?
What can we learn from her life?
Read & Reflect:
Isaiah 58 & Joshua 2 Corrie Ten Boom was a Christian from the Netherlands who, with her family, hid many Jewish people in the Second World War and enabled some to escape to freedom. Consequently, she was sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis.
Corrie Ten Boom was inspired through her Christian faith to take massive risks for people who were hated by many. She showed love in action. In our daily lives we hopefully do not face such big risks…but are there things we
can do this week to help other people, that at the very least cost us something?
Shiprah & Puah What can we learn from their lives?
Read & Reflect: Exodus 1
Respond: At the beginning of the book of Exodus, the Bible tells us that the ruler of Egypt decrees that all Hebrew boys must be killed by the midwife delivering the baby. Two such midwives are named, Shiprah and Puah. They take a stand and refuse to do this. “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” (1:17)
Faced with evil, what do we do? How do we support what is right? How do we stand up for God’s way?