Church of Sanctuary

Congregations creating cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety

Over the last five years, the Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal has been working with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and City of Sanctuary to develop and coordinate the Church of Sanctuary initiative, which works to encourage congregations to create cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety in Britain and Ireland. Both CTBI and City of Sanctuary have also jointly pioneered the Church of Sanctuary award that has seen several churches, and a Cathedral, become recipients of this in 2023.

Recently, Inderjit attended a specially convened meeting in Lichfield, England, to announce that five churches of different denominations in that Cathedral City had been given the Church of Sanctuary Award. Earlier in the year, he was the preacher at a service in Brighton and Hove, England, at which five Methodist Churches of the Circuit received the Church and Circuit of Sanctuary Award, affirming their ongoing work alongside refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Moreover, Nailsea Methodist Church in North Somerset, has also been recognised as a Church of Sanctuary, while Chester Cathedral has been declared a Cathedral of Sanctuary.

In all these different contexts, church members work together to learn and be well informed about refugees and people seeking sanctuary; they are intentionally building and embedding welcome, hospitality and safety; and are engaging in this work as part of their Christian discipleship and prayer with pride.

Church of SanctuaryDeeptima Massey is the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion officer for the Brighton and Hove Methodist Circuit, and has worked with others to help the Circuit navigate the Church of Sanctuary process. Deeptima says: “The value of this recognition and award lies in the fact that we have made a commitment to live out God's purpose to offer hospitality, kindness, love and sanctuary to all through our witness and service. It also offers us an opportunity to work for and with refugees, identifying and responding to their needs, embracing everybody just as they are.”

Pastor Gerard Goshawk ministers with the Six ways Erdington Baptist Church, Birmingham, a recognised Church of Sanctuary, and says, “We are a Church of Sanctuary. This is who we are, an embedded, blessed and enriched congregation, and we take pride in that being inclusive is natural and a joy, it offers us more opportunities to serve and advocate.”

The Church of sanctuary award is not the end of the process, but an important stage on an ongoing pilgrimage. It is not about getting a certificate to display, it is more about learning together and building communities of sanctuary. In the process a congregation can also help to build and strengthen refugee voices and leadership.

What value is added by becoming a recognised Church of Sanctuary?
Becoming a Church of Sanctuary further strengthens and embeds the ethos and culture of welcome, hospitality and safety; it provides a connection to the Church of Sanctuary network of CTBI, the wider City of Sanctuary network, and the even wider community engagement with refugees and people seeking sanctuary.

Moreover, Church of Sanctuary is not a campaigning, political movement. Equally, it is not about opening up buildings for people to live in, but about building communities of hospitality and sanctuary. It is a biblically-inspired initiative; it is about being prophetic, and challenging hostility with hospitality. It can mean we become political in standing up to injustice. This is in keeping with the biblical prophets - speaking truth to power with passion and compassion, and seeking justice. It adds local congregation based witness to the initiatives taken by faith leaders, such as the ‘hospitality not hostility’ video message during Refugee Week.

Sanctuary is the abode of God, enshrined in every House of prayer, embodying the holiness and hospitality of God. Church of sanctuary is a practical outworking and witness of this, affirming sanctuary as a safe space, free of hostility and harm.

Inderjit Bhogal

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This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of CTBI. Explore CTBI’s work in their Autumn 2023 Magazine