A story sent by Rev John Howard-Norman of Wesley Hall Methodist Church, Blackburn:
As the nations of Europe struggle to make an adequate response to the needs of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war, violence and oppression, Christians, cannot simply remain bystanders to this unfolding humanitarian tragedy. This crisis is so great it is quite literally of biblical proportions, and it is in the Bible that we discover that so many of God’s people were refugees, including Jesus! It is therefore natural that as Christians, we would want to make some sort of response. The question is, what can we do?
The first thing we must surely do is pray. Prayer opens our hearts to God’s will and purpose in this appalling situation. But is prayer all that we can do, or is there some action we might take? Churches located in those communities who will be hosting Syrian refugees, brought into this country by the British government over the next few months, may feel called to play their part in welcoming those who have lost so much, but having never encountered refugees or asylum seekers before, may feel uncertain about what to do. This is the story of one church’s response.
In 2004 the congregation at Wesley Hall Methodist Church, Blackburn made their own response to those arriving in the town as Asylum Seekers, by hosting a drop-in at the church every Tuesday. The drop-in became known as the ARC Project (the Asylum and Refugee Community). Eleven years on, that drop-in still meets every week. ARC is a place where all are welcome; a safe space, where differences of race and religion are laid aside, as adults and children of different nations and faiths share food and friendship together with the volunteers who support them, many of whom either still are, or have been, asylum seekers.
Those who attend the drop-in each week are often heard to say, ‘ARC is our home’.
In addition to the drop-in, the ARC project volunteers help refugees and asylum seekers at ‘English Club,’ develop their English language skills in a fun and friendly environment. Throughout the week, individual case work is undertaken by the Project Manager, Emily Jones, employed by the West Pennine Moors Methodist Circuit; Rob Cross, Outreach and Wellbeing worker, employed by the Cornerstone GP Practice, and Robin Sarkar, a full-time volunteer. Over recent months the Home Office has speeded up the processing of applications for asylum seekers applying for refugee status, and what used to take months or even years, is now taking just a few weeks. This means that the ARC staff members are busier than ever, in offering support to those attempting to navigate their way through the complexities of the asylum system. Supported by funding from the Lancashire District of the Methodist Church, Wesley Hall continues to be the home of ARC, so that ARC can continue to be the home of those who once were strangers, but now are friends.
Many thanks to the Rev John Howard-Norman of Wesley Hall Methodist Church, Blackburn for this story. If you think you have a story about your church that could give guidance to others who are eager to help please share it with us.