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Refugee crisis: ‘Send money, not goods’

25 September 2015

Gavin Drake reports from the Church in Wales's Governing Body

Philip Morris

Calling for a practical response: the Rt Revd John Davies

Calling for a practical response: the Rt Revd John Davies

THE Church in Wales’s rule that requires five weeks’ notice before motions can be brought to the Governing Body was waived by the members to enable an emergency debate on Europe’s refugee crisis.

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, opened the debate, saying: “Pray God the time will come when motions of this sort and discussions of this sort will not be necessary. I guess, however, that human weakness, human sin, and human inhumanity means that day may never come.”

He said that the motion’s focus on Europe was “not to deny refugee crises elsewhere”, but that it was to look at the “response that seems to have emerged in parts of Europe in response to the crisis”.

A practical response was called for, he said. “We feel the need to do something. We feel the need to help, and there have been countless examples around the province of people catalysed into action immediately in response to the things they have seen and read about.

“One thing I do urge upon you, in deciding what practical response to make, that you do take some advice. . . However well-intentioned it may be, it isn’t always the best practical response to send parcels of blankets and things like that to the refugee centres, because very often these things cost more to transport . . . than is desirable.”

The best practical response, he said, was “cash paid to the agencies who are experts and well used to dealing with crises of the sort we are concerned with today”.

The collections taken during the worship at the Governing Body meeting raised £1896 before Gift Aid. This has been sent to Christian Aid’s refugee-crisis appeal.

Seconding the motion, the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, made reference to a motion approved by the Governing Body the previous year on violence in the Middle East.

“The situation in Palestine has simmered down, but the situation in Syria has become worse, and worse, and worse; and it is that which has caused the refugee crisis that we currently see in our midst.

“Our government’s reaction and response, and the reaction of Europe has been lamentable. . . I looked first of all for a compassionate response, and I saw, at first, our politicians and our media speaking from fear rather than from compassion.”

Speaking about the UK Government’s latest position, he said: “Lebanon, a country which is a fraction of the size of the UK, currently has two million refugees within its borders; so when I hear the Prime Minister of our country saying ‘The UK will play its part. We will take 4000 refugees a year,’ I really wonder whether our response is commensurate.”

He pointed out that the island of Kos, which has a population of 31,000, was currently receiving 4000 refugees each day; and said that a co-ordinated response was needed. “If the EU is good for anything, it needs to pull its weight now,” he said.

The Revd Sally Thomas (United Reformed Church) called on the Churches to produce ecumenical guidelines. “People need to know what to do,” she said. She urged people not to collect goods but to donate money instead.

The Revd Phil Bettinson (St Asaph) said that the media’s use of language, and the labelling of refugees as “migrants after our jobs” had “removed the compassionate outpouring . . . that we have seen in this country for decades”.

Dean Roberts (co-opted to represent the under-30s) said that “advice on spiritual discernment” was needed to prevent refugees’ completing Alpha courses so that they could “claim asylum based on them having changed their religion from Islam to Christianity”.

“As a Church, we have to be mindful that some of these people may not be interested in Christianity,” he said. “When we start getting involved with the law courts, our pursuit to allow refugees into our country who have genuinely converted to Christianity may be undermined by those who are fraudulent.”

Jennie Willson (St Asaph) expressed concern for the refugees trying to enter the UK from France. “Should we be standing up more strongly, and question where the support is for refugees in Calais?” she asked.

Dr Huw Lloyd (co-opted) said that he was “absolutely disgusted” at the response of “our politicians and some of our fellow countrymen”. But he questioned why the Governing Body was holding an emergency debate, and asked: “Where were we beforehand?”

Responding to the debate, Bishop Davies also expressed concern at the use of the aid budget, saying that “this could be taking food out of people’s mouths.”

The motion was unanimously approved:

That the Governing Body:

(i) recognise the enormity of the refugee crisis currently facing Europe;

(ii) affirm our solidarity with all those who are fleeing conflict, war and destruction;

(iii) endorse the statement made by the Bishops of the Church in Wales on 8 September 2015, which calls for a practical response based on hospitality and generosity;

(iv) continue to commit the situation and all affected by it to our prayers.


Not too late to avoid climate change disaster, Church in Wales told

THE former co-chairman of the scientific-assessment working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Sir John Houghton, addressed the Governing Body before a debate on climate change.

Sir John, who was also a former professor in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford, and a former chief executive at the Met Office, gave a summary of the science behind climate change and a warning of what needed to be done.

Members of the Governing Body also received a report from the campaign group Church Action for Sustaining the Environment (Chase). “We can make a choice to change,” it said. “It is not too late for decisive action to be taken to avoid climate change reaching really dangerous proportions; but the longer the delay, the greater the costs will be.”

Explaining the importance of the debate, the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, said: “The future of the world in which we live is the responsibility of all people of good heart, not least Christian Churches, because we have a responsibility to deal with creation as stewards; we have a responsibility to the poor, and to bring good news to them; and we have a responsibility spelt out in the gospel to seek life in all its fullness for all the people of the world.”

The Revd Alison Jones (Swansea & Brecon) said that “just a few of us can’t make a difference; but the more that we encourage people to understand about creator God, and who made the world, and the import-ance of caring for it, then the more people will understand the ethic that we are trying to speak about here.”

The Archdeacon of Cardigan, the Ven. Dr William Strange (St Davids), said that “climate change has been a disappointment.” He drew attention to the Met Office temperature graph, and said: “I do have questions, and I would like the Met Office temperature-drop graph explained to me.”

The motion was carried with three abstentions

That the Governing Body:

(i) agree that proposals for strengthening the Church’s action on climate change be developed;

(ii) invite dioceses to review their representation on CHASE to support this process;

(iii) note that the Ethical Investment Group is advising the Representative Body on how to take account of climate change in investment; and

(iv) note that the Governing Body will receive a report on progress in April 2016.

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