THE diocese of London has launched a scheme to enable clergy to offer their spare rooms for asylum-seekers and refugees. The scheme, Clergy Hosting, is being run by the diocese’s social-action arm, Capital Mass, and was inspired by a scheme run by the charity Housing Justice.
The Archdeacon of Hampstead, the Ven. John Hawkins, said that many clergy had vicarages that were bigger than they needed. “We have been gifted with these homes. Here’s a wonderful way of taking that gift and sharing it.”
The scheme has been cleared by the diocese’s legal team, and does not amount to a formal tenancy or require any contract. Instead, clergy can register with Clergy Hosting and state how many rooms they can offer, for how long, and to whom.
The project reflects the Christmas story, Archdeacon Hawkins said. There may have been “no room at the inn” for Mary and Joseph when they arrived in Bethlehem, but priests should ask themselves: “Is there room in my home?”
The aim was that the hosting of refugees and asylum-seekers by clergy would inspire parishioners to follow in their footsteps, he said.
An Assistant Curate at St Martin’s, Ruislip, the Revd Jack Noble, said that his experience of hosting a 21-year-old asylum-seeker, said his experience had been “overwhelmingly positive”.
“I was obviously a little bit nervous beforehand,” he said on Monday. “I have got used to my personal space, my house is also my office, people are visiting for the parish, and it’s not a very big house.”
But he said his Christian duty had to supersede his practical concerns, and other worries about suburban curtains, too. “I thought about what would the neighbours think, but then I thought ‘What does that have to do with me being a Christian?’
“There’s the whole thing about if you have two coats, give one away. I have more than two coats and I haven’t given any away. I do have one spare room, and it doesn’t detract my life at all for that to be used rather than sitting there with my ironing board in.”
Hosting his guest has not created pressures on his time or space, and he has begun to develop a friendship, Mr Noble explained.
“I laid down some ground rules and played the long game, and it has developed into a relationship I have been surprised by and nourished by,” he said. When his current guest moves on, he plans immediately to sign up to host another. “It’s been pathetically easy,” he said.
The Revd Ifeanyi Chukuka, a hospital chaplain in east London, has been hosting through the scheme. “It’s what Jesus expects me to do. To take care of the less privileged, and give as much as I can.”
Other clerics thinking about offering their spare rooms should prepare themselves for the challenge of hosting someone from another culture with all the ups and downs that come along with that, Mr Chukuka said. Nevertheless, the experience was very rewarding. “This not just about teaching the word but practicalising it. Living out the scriptures in its entirety. It has a lot of rewarding aspects.”
Capital Mass is holding an information evening for clergy on 16 January at St James’s, Piccadilly. Tickets for the event can be booked at www.capitalmass.org.uk/refugee-response/clergy-hosting.
The scheme comes soon after leaders of London’s Churches joined together to launch a campaign — #LondonUnited — to respond to the ongoing refugee crisis, and the rise in hate crime since the referendum in June.
At that event, the deputy mayor for social integration, mobility, and community engagement, Matthew Ryder, told clergy and ministers from several denominations that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, backed the initiative.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, who chairs London Church Leaders, said: “As we work together to fight intolerance and address need, we should celebrate the stories of our communities, and the actions of love that support them. In this, our message to future generations of Londoners is one of hope that will not falter, in the face of hatred and injustice.”
Outside of London, projects to help refugees are also gaining momentum. In Birmingham, Steph and Matthew Neville have offered a house to the refugee homelessness charity Hope Projects for asylum seekers.
The head of Hope Projects, Phil Davis, said: “This truly is the greatest Christmas present. No one should be homeless on our streets, and this Christmas, thanks to the Steph and Matthew Neville’s generosity, a few fewer will be.”
MIRIAM has been staying with the Revd Sally Hitchiner, chaplain at Brunel University in west London, since Easter, shortly after she converted to Christianity.
Miriam (not her real name) had begun attending a Bible study group while in London, but when the government of her home country — which cannot be disclosed for her safety — found out about her new faith, it was made clear she could not return home.
Ms Hitchiner said that they contacted charities for help. “All of them said she would be dead before she left the airport.”
Faced with permanent exile from her life and family back home, Miriam decided to apply for asylum in the UK; Ms Hitchiner then gave her her spare room.
“I’m a single clergyperson and I have got a four-bedroom house. It seems ridiculous that I would have all this space and not be able to use it for someone who is so in need.
“It was very traumatic for her: she had a good life at home; she had a great job and career with lots of friends. Suddenly, within a week she found out there was no possibility of her returning home and surviving.”
The asylum-seeking process took months, during which time she was given only £34 a week. Throughout this ordeal, however, Miriam’s faith grew rather than weakened.
Ms Hitchiner emphasises that not every cleric who hosts a refugee or asylum-seeker needs to become involved in his or her case, but she found drawn to give Miriam support, including references.
“I was a little bit daunted at first, but . . . it was my duty to have space as a Christian, to be there for her,” she said. “It has its ups and downs, but it’s also been this amazing experience, both of learning about her culture and her life, but also her growth as a Christian.
“It’s been a real privilege for me. I was expecting it to be something I had to do for my fellow sister in Christ, I wasn’t expecting to see my faith grow through it.”
Miriam’s application for asylum has been successful, and she is now looking for a job.