We wish you a merry WYDAN

We wish you a merry WYDAN

A young family is forced by the threat of violence by a murderous ruler to flee their home and seek sanctuary in a foreign land.  Modern day Syria?  No Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing the wrath of Herod, but the scene is still played out across the globe today.

At the beginning of November Scholes Church hosted 8 destitute asylum seekers in their church hall.  These men (women are housed separately) have all sought asylum in Britain, been rejected and have appealed against their rejection.  By appealing they lose all rights to housing, benefits, they are not allowed to work and are left to fend for themselves.  The Churches of Barwick, Scholes and Thorner took the decision to host them for a week.  

The week did not start well.  We arrived on the Monday morning to find that someone had taken a wooden spike and smashed two of the windows in the Church Hall.  There had been some unpleasant comments on social media about the asylum seekers arriving, but this had taken it to a whole different, Herod-like, level.  It made us feel very sad that someone who may be living in Scholes was willing to damage property in this way simply because the church was acting welcoming and generous to people who had nothing and nowhere else to go.

But then on Monday evening a car arrived in the church carpark and a lady got out.  She had made bags for each guest with gifts of hats and gloves and other treats.  As she said ‘All that hate on Facebook made me want to do something to show them that we care.’  Our faith in the innate goodness of humanity was being restored.

Leeds is part of a ‘City of Sanctuary’ network that seeks to extend a welcome to anyone who is in need of safety.  The word sanctuary is an ancient religious word that is central to the Church’s role in the world.  Over the centuries people have been abused, rejected and hounded from their homes.  The Church has seen its role as offering a place of safety and comfort for those who have been marginalised, brutalised, with nowhere else to turn.  In this sense WYDAN (the West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Seekers Network) is simply a continuation of the church’s task despite being a non-religious organisation that works with churches, synagogues, mosques and non-religious organisations from across Leeds.

Even amongst Jesus’ followers there were ex-prostitutes and tax collectors (effectively traitors working for the Roman government collecting taxes from the populace).  These were not the ‘nice’ people but those on the fringes of polite society.  Jesus loved them and welcomed them as fellow travellers on the way.

Again and again throughout Christian history the Church has stuck its neck out in a counter-cultural manner to say that all people, no matter where they come from or what their background, are loved by God and worthy of our welcome and generosity.

As it happens, the guests who came are some of the most gentle, lovely, humorous and caring people I have ever met and I felt blessed by being allowed to serve them.  They have travelled from across the globe and at least two different continents to come here to Leeds to find a place of safety, sanctuary.

It was Scholes Church’s privilege to host them, though it was heartening to see that the volunteers who hosted them came from all three villages, both Anglican and Methodist churches and indeed some from no church at all.

There may be some who disagree that we should have hosted these destitute men but I know that what we did not only made a difference to those men’s lives for that week, it also made a positive difference to our lives.  Living generously creates virtuous cycles that shine a light on the darkness of hatred and violence.  Jesus was all about shining the light of God’s love into dark places.

I encourage all to try a little generosity and welcome this Christmas time.  You never know where it will lead you!