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London church co-ordinates efforts to support Ukrainian refugees

25 March 2022

St John’s, Notting Hill

The Revd Dr William Taylor (second from right) at the Romanian border last week

The Revd Dr William Taylor (second from right) at the Romanian border last week

A ROMANIAN Orthodox women’s group, an Anglican church in Notting Hill, and an organisation that provides free music lessons from a double-decker bus have joined forces to support Ukrainian refugees.

Supplies are being collected at St John’s, Notting Hill, west London, transported to northern Romania, and distributed to refugees crossing the border.

Of the 3.5 million people to have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion, more than half a million have crossed into Romania, according to the latest figures from the United Nations.

The Revd Dr William Taylor, Vicar of St John’s, who chairs the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, visited the Ukrainian border last week to see the work in action. “This interchurch co-operation is literally delivering the goods,” he said.

A group of UK-based organisations — including Romanian Orthodox women and youth organisations, and Lycaeum Music, which provides music lessons from a converted bus — are working with the archdiocese of Suceava and NGOs in Romania to collect and distribute the supplies.

Alina Balatchi-Lupascu, who is involved with several of the Orthodox groups, told the Church Times that there was a “divine spark” that brought people together in this civil-society mobilisation.

The Orthodox Church in Romania has been at the border “since day one”, Ms Balatchi-Lupascu said. “When the first thing you see when you cross the border is a priest it is a very comforting thing. I’ve seen people just burst into tears.

“It’s a sign of comfort, or compassion, of a priest being where he should be: at the very heart of a need, not just preaching but serving.”

Dr Taylor said that his visit to the border was “very uplifting — strange as it is to say about a war zone”. The care for victims was “incredibly well organised”, and “being given with deep human compassion and spirituality”.

Such work “deepens the bonds between our two Churches”, he suggested. “At times of crisis like this, real links with our Orthodox partners come into their own.”

Dr Taylor was critical of the Church of England’s recent record on “ecumenical solidarity”, but welcomed news that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Patriarch Kirill held a conversation on Wednesday of last week (News, 17 March).

St John’s, Notting Hill, hosts a Ukrainian Baptist congregation, and a group from Hong Kong, along with the diocese’s Filipino and Persian chaplaincies.

In a room in the church on Monday, Nick Sibisky was one of those receiving and sorting donations. In ordinary times, he helps children to try out a range of musical instruments as part of the Music on Wheels scheme, but, since the invasion, he has been seconded by Lycaeum Music to help to organise donations.

“The experience has been affirming,” Mr Sibisky told the Church Times. “We’ve had a great turn-out from the community.”

Alongside vital supplies including canned food and hygiene products, some donations have been less helpful: ball gowns, bikinis, and a Gucci suit were among the items donated by the residents of Kensington.

Others, though, came up trumps. A retired doctor, in her eighties, “pretty much bought out the chemists” to donate much-needed medical supplies, Mr Sibisky said. While we were talking, a man dropped off eight brand-new sleeping bags.

The range of organisations involved in the project has allowed them to attract a broad range of support. They recently received a message from an air steward offering to bring over anything that might be required from the United States.

Like many relief projects, however, the focus is increasingly on items that are harder to find near their point of need, along with monetary donations.

Ms Balatchi-Lupascu, who works in marketing and has just returned from her native Romania, where eight refugees are staying in her flat, said: “We’re trying to be efficient. We don’t collect for the sake of collecting. You have to listen to what people really need.”

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