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Refugees: the Synod’s debate, and lending support

04 December 2015


From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — The General Synod has debated a carefully crafted motion on the migrancy issue which duly delivered a unanimous endorsement, as was both intended and justified. Afterwards, I asked fellow members how they would score the quality of the debate; nobody gave it more than seven out of ten.

I have been reflecting on what might have been missing, and, as I did so, became more and more troubled. We had talked across many aspects of the problem concerning principle, scripture, the plight of the refugees, and the government response, but only rarely did we touch on another important aspect: the ordinary people of this country. They will, after all, pay for the welcome, and not only are they accordingly stakeholders, but the Established Church holds them, too, in its charge.

We tentatively acknowledged “anxieties”, but never gave Joe Public the courtesy of exploring them in any depth.

That the motion would be passed nem. con. was obvious. We could have risked exploring the texture of public anxiety more honestly, but no such voices were heard. We spoke as if we feared that our parishioners would prove a bad lot; speakers denounced intolerance and borderline xenophobia. In the context of the debate, that took no courage whatsoever. I cannot help but regret that a pastoral opportunity was lost. We were too intent on preaching to the choir.

Naming the concerns and, more importantly, addressing them would not have weakened our commitment to generosity, but would have delivered an important message: that we “get” our parishioners’ fears. This was especially appropriate after the Paris terrorist attacks. If we think people wrong in their hesitancy, we should have addressed the concern openly and directly. Instead, we largely ignored them. We claim to be listeners, and yet nobody called to speak was anxious to show any evidence of having done so.

The irony is, of course, that, far from being intolerant and xenophobic, the people we know have a fine record of accepting diversity; they will do so again, even if some grumble as they do so. This is precisely why so many migrants cross multiple countries to enjoy life among a people who make it safe to be different.

In a presentation, we considered research evidence on how people regard Jesus, and we enjoined each other to learn how to listen more carefully and engage positively in dialogue. Oh, the irony!

(Synod member for Rochester)
8 Appleshaw Close, Gravesend
Kent DA11 7PB


From Mr William Robert Haines

Sir, — Few of the 20,000 refugees coming to this country from the Middle East will know any English, and yet fluency in the language of the host country helps to bond the refugees to their hosts, whether a family, community, or parish.

Distance learning can help, using the existing resources of the internet and are already available at no cost. The website, Learning English (Google), has two main sources, the BBC and the British Council, offering courses for adults, for children and for specialist interests, such as business or for the teachers of English. Present access is through the internet only, however; so a computer is necessary.

In the long term, the Government should persuade the BBC and the British Council to convert the programmes on to radio, to be broadcast over one of the lesser-used frequencies on Medium Wave. In the short term, we as hosts, either as individuals or as parishes, should ensure that the refugees benefit from these resources.

57 Larkhill Road
Shrewsbury SY3 8XJ

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