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Churches get to work to support refugees

01 April 2022

Christians respond to appeals to make strangers welcome

Alamy

Protesters in Brussels at a rally on Sunday to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Protesters in Brussels at a rally on Sunday to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine

CHURCHES in the UK and Europe are mobilising in support of refugees from the war in Ukraine.

USPG and the diocese in Europe have raised nearly £200,000 from joint appeals since the Russian invasion on 24 February. Anglican chaplaincies across the continent — from Budapest in Hungary to Bergen in south-west Norway — have been supporting refugees as they arrive.

Meanwhile, in the UK, hundreds of churches have pledged to support some of the more than four million people who have now fled Ukraine.

About 70 churches in the diocese of Chichester responded this week to a call from the Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Ruth Bushyager, to sign up. Almost 2000 churches in the UK, from a range of denominations, have pledged their support via the Sanctuary Foundation. Its leader, Dr Krish Kandiah, told the Church Times last week that the Foundation came about out of a “desire to obey Jesus’s command to welcome the stranger” (News, 25 March).

Bishop Bushyager said: “We are seeing an outpouring of hospitality in this unprecedented situation. Communities across Sussex, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, are coming together in remarkable ways to prepare to support Ukrainians, many of whom are vulnerable women and children who have suffered great trauma. . .

“Jesus himself was a child refugee, and we are rightly responding to his call to serve our brothers and sisters with sacrificial kindness in their hour of great need.”

The diocese of London this week published a web page for individuals and churches who want to help.

The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that he was “thrilled and humbled” by the response to the joint appeals of USPG and the diocese in Europe. “The plight of Ukraine and its people has touched our hearts and the Church is responding. . .

“The unique structure of our diocese means that our chaplaincies are already doing vital work to help refugees. We will work with partners on the ground to ensure that the money that has been donated goes to those in need.”

Churches are helping with offers of food and accommodation, as well as financial gifts, to give those fleeing the war greater autonomy. In Warsaw, the Revd David Brown said that giving cash in an accountable way was “helping to restore the dignity and respect they deserve”.

USPG’s regional manager for Europe, Rebecca Boardman, said that there was a well-established understanding that cash assistance could be a “more dignified way of supporting people who are fleeing and seeking refuge”, and that the relationships that the chaplaincies have fostered over many years enable them to account for payments.

Mr Brown also highlighted the importance of pastoral care for refugees, as well as for the volunteers who have been working on the front line to assist them. As of Tuesday, the United Nations reported that four million people had fled Ukraine since the outbreak of war, of whom 2.3 million had arrived in Poland.

AlamyA pro-Ukrainian banner held aloft at a London rally in support of the country on Saturday

As refugees move on to other countries, often to join family or friends, Anglican chaplaincies further from Ukraine have found themselves with bolstered congregations. In Bergen, south-west Norway, the Anglican community meets just 100 yards from a hotel that is being used as a refuge centre for those displaced by the war, and some 30 refugees attended the Anglican service last Sunday.

“While the language was a challenge, they were still able to convey to us their shared sense of shock and grief, and some of the challenges they are facing as they adjust to a foreign land,” said the Revd Dr Kirk Weisz, assistant chaplain at Bergen Anglican Church.

In a suburb outside of Paris, the Revd Charlotte Sullivan is hosting three refugees at the vicarage. “The church is responding in as many ways as we can,” she said. The chaplaincy at Holy Trinity Church, Maisons-Laffitte, has been running a drop-in café where translators are available to help refugees with visa applications and accessing medical care.

As well as supporting the work of chaplaincies, money raised through the USPG and diocese in Europe joint appeal and the Bishop in Europe’s Lent Appeal has helped to fund the work of ecumenical partners, including the Roman Catholic aid organisation Caritas, and the Lutheran World Foundation, who still have a presence in Ukraine itself.

In neighbouring Hungary, the Anglican chaplaincy in Budapest has partnered with the Next Step Programme, which has been helping refugees acclimatise, as well as with an organisation that finds housing for the new arrivals.

Among those helped by St Margaret’s is a group of Nigerian students who had been studying in Ukraine. Earlier this month, the Revd Solomon Ekiyor, who had been working in Ukraine from 2017 until fleeing the war with his young family, told the congregation at St Margaret’s, Budapest: “The war profoundly disrupts our lives and plan, but our faith also gives us resources to meet these questions” (News, 11 March).

People wishing to support the USPG and Europe diocesan appeal can do so online at uspg.org/ukraine.

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