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Church steps up for refugees across the UK

26 August 2022

Churchgoers open their homes to fleeing Ukrainians

St Barnabas and Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich  

A Ukrainian youth group, which has been meeting regularly in Dulwich since May, visited Margate this month. Highlights included a scavenger hunt around Margate town, football on the beach, kite-flying, paddling in the sea, a fish-and-chip supper, and singing together at sunset

A Ukrainian youth group, which has been meeting regularly in Dulwich since May, visited Margate this month. Highlights included a scavenger hunt aroun...

THE Government reports that more than 80,000 Ukrainians have been housed by about 25,000 hosts under the Homes for Ukraine scheme (News 15 March). Many parishes and dioceses are involved in the hosting, besides running welcome hubs, advice centres, and conversation classes.

Eight dioceses have committed themselves to finding homes for 50 or more Ukrainians by becoming strategic partners of the community-organising group Citizens UK, one of the Government’s Recognised Providers of support for Ukrainian refugees. Citizens UK, with its partners, matches refugees with hosts.

Citizens UK’s strategic partners include the dioceses of Exeter, Oxford, Chelmsford, Portsmouth, Hereford, Guildford, Leicester, Southwell & Nottingham, and Llandaff, as well as Peterborough Cathedral, Baptists Together, and the Roman Catholic charity Father Hudson’s Care. Some churches have worked with partners other than Citizens, such as RESET, Refugees at Home, or the Make a Difference Foundation.

Every C of E diocese has produced guidance on hosting. Sponsors who accept Ukrainians through a diocesan matching scheme are likely to attend church or have links with a parish or member of clergy.

Since the spring, around 2168 churches have signed up with Sanctuary Foundation, a refugee charity set up by the Baptist social entrepreneur Dr Krish Kandiah, to pledge their support of Ukrainian refugees.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, is housing one or more refugees, as are the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, and the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley. A C of E spokesman said that several other bishops were “on the list to host”.

The Archdeacon of Plymouth, the Ven. Nick Shutt, and his wife, Corinne, are hosting Lena Kulakovska, her newborn, and two older children, who were collected from Germany by the Archdeacon’s PA, Beth Collier, and her husband, Matt. Ms Kulakovska gave birth to her third child, Nicole, in hospital in Plymouth last month; she fled Ukraine when she was 36 weeks pregnant. In all, Exeter diocese has found 96 hosts for 30 Ukrainian families; another ten are awaiting UK visas. Local Ukrainians and the University of Exeter’s Department of Russian are providing translators.

In Oxford diocese, more than 200 Ukrainians are settling into more than 80 homes, and the diocese has employed a refugee to welcome and translate for new arrivals. In the diocese of Chelmsford, whose Bishop, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, came to Britain as a refugee, 29 households are sponsoring 57 Ukrainians. The diocese’s Communities for Ukrainians programme aims to help parishes to help refugees settle and access services and employment.

The diocese of Canterbury has found 20 hosts, and is taking referrals from the Newcastle-based Make a Difference Foundation, which helps Ukrainians reach the UK. The diocese has set up a welcome hub to offer advice to about 50 guests and hosts a week. Parishes are independently sending goods to Ukraine, providing befrienders and sponsors, setting up conversation classes and prayer groups, and producing prayer cards in Ukrainian.

The Kent refugee-projects officer, Domenica Pecoraro, said: “I don’t think there’s a parish in Kent that is not somehow involved.” A donation has enabled her to increase her hours and employ a part-time Ukrainian-speaking Project Assistant. Some Ukrainians had started attending C of E churches, she said, if they had encountered the vicar or church school.

In the diocese of Portsmouth, more than 70 sponsors have offered to welcome 179 Ukrainians, and more than 80 applicants are still waiting to be matched with hosts. Jane Cadman, who, with her husband, has taken in a 22-year-old student, Yelyzaveta Dovzhenko, said: “Our spare room is actually our daughter’s, who is at university. . . She said [if a Ukrainian needed the room] she’d just sleep on the sofa bed.”

While the diocese of London has not counted how many lay people have taken in Ukrainians, 13 clergy families are hosting; a spokesman said that more were expected to follow. Two Ukrainian-speaking Anglican priests are offering chaplaincy and liturgies in Ukrainian. Holy Sepulchre, the Musicians’ Church, on Holborn Viaduct, has made rooms available for Ukrainian music students and is hosting their weekly concerts. Other churches are holding drop-in sessions and English classes.

Archdeacon Shutt said that it was hard to persuade Ukrainians to live in rural areas, because they wanted access to schools and transport links. But he suggested that their perception of “rural” might be “somewhat different from ours, as we have been asked questions like ‘Is there electricity?’ and ‘Will they have running water?’”.

The diocese of Leicester has provided five sponsors for ten refugees and is preparing for more arrivals. Its co-ordinator, Canon Karen Rooms, said that Leicester had a large Ukrainian community; a Ukrainian Roman Catholic church is organising collections and hosting drop-ins. Peterborough Cathedral has employed a Ukrainian part-time to co-ordinate new arrivals, and is housing a refugee family in a flat owned by the cathedral.

The diocese of Southwark has provided a vicarage in Dulwich for a family of nine, and is hosting “an extremely significant number” of guests; liturgies celebrated by clergy from the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church are being held in a rural church near Reigate.

A city-centre church in Hereford diocese is working with the council and other organisations, and hosting weekly meetings of both the Ukrainian Association and sponsors.

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