Peter's Blog

What can we do?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

I have been following my friends Jonathan Fleming and David Burt on facebook as they have been driving down to Calais over the past couple of days with a van full of aid supplies that they have been gathering together through Erskine Parish Church. In Aberdeen the CafAid folks have also been collecting good to assist the crisis going on in Calais. That crisis, of course, is a tiny part of a much larger flood of humanity out of the ghastly mess that is a place like Syria. In Turkey alone there are approaching 2 million refugees. Just think about that for a moment. Here in the UK David Cameron has relented and has talked about 20,000 refugees being allowed to enter the UK over a five year period. Meanwhile Turkey, with far fewer resources, is already having to deal with nearly 100 times that number.

I hang my head in shame at the grudging language that some of our political leaders have used while bowing to the pressure to do more from so many of those who elected them. A couple of weeks ago this crisis was the focus of my sermon on Sunday. My notes for that sermon are really just notes, rather than a script, but I may edit them a bit more and add them to the blog as some contribution to our own dialogue about the Christian response to a crisis such as the one we have been witnessing over the last months and years.

With the acknowledgement finally that the government will be doing something more organised to help some refugees find a new home, faith groups have been busy starting conversations with partners to assist any families that might be coming to communities. As part of that process, please read the letter below from Aberdeen Churches Together. Below that you will find a letter from the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland with other relevant advice on what we can do to assist.

On my recent trip to Malawi I found myself on a few occasions when we were spending time in feeding stations for children pondering the priority of one's assistance into situations that seem so big that they are almost insurmountable: do we help the imminent need of people struggling in the present, or do we focus our energies on the structural problems that are at the root of such suffering. Of course, it has to be a bit of both, and handled with great sensitivity.

Letter from Aberdeen Churches Together

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are sure that you and your congregations are greatly concerned about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and the resulting migration of large numbers of people exposed to great hardship, uncertainty and vulnerability. As Christian people, we are called by Christ to respond with compassion and hospitality.

Many in your congregations may be asking what the Church is doing in the face of this crisis. Firstly, as congregations and as individuals, many will have already responded to appeals for help and many churches will be taking up special collections in aid of the refugees. Moreover, following the decision of the UK Government to accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years, representatives from a number of churches across the city met on Thursday 10 September to discuss an ecumenical response, and an invitation was received from Aberdeen City Council to attend a Refugee Planning meeting, along with representatives from the Muslim Community and the Voluntary Sector. Accordingly, Rev. Hugh Wallace, Convenor of the Church and Society Committee of the Aberdeen Presbytery of the Church of Scotland, and Rev. Stuart Chalmers, Vicar General of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aberdeen, as representatives of Aberdeen Churches Together, attended the meeting on 14th September to discuss how the Council, faith groups and the voluntary sector could work together to offer spiritual, emotional and material support to refugees coming to the City and the North East. Reflecting the common consensus at the meeting, all faith community representatives expressed a commitment to welcome and assist the refugees when they arrive.

There is great willingness in our congregations to help in a variety of ways. However, at this point in time, we are waiting for further detail from the UK Government as to who will be resettled in our area and what their specific needs will be. This will then inform a plan of action, shaped by the Council in collaboration with faith groups, charitable organisations and individuals. Congregations will be informed of this plan in due course. In the meantime, offers of help and pledges of financial assistance can be lodged on a new website created jointly by the Scottish Refugee Council and the Scottish Government: 

Please continue to pray for the many people of Syria and the neighbouring countries in the Middle East, whose lives have been so deeply affected by the on-going conflict. Pray for the peoples in Europe as refugees make their way into their countries. Let us pray that the values of wisdom, compassion , courage, justice and peace would prevail in this uncertain situation.

Yours in Christ,

Members of Aberdeen Churches Together

Letter from Ministries Council, Church of Scotland

Dear Colleagues,

In recognition of the extraordinary situation facing refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria, a special meeting of the Councils and departments of the Church has taken place.

The Church and Society Council and the Finance Group of the Church have recognised the desire of church members to respond to the refugee crisis. The Church has an extraordinary depth of experience and resource which it can bring to bear to meet the needs of refugees arriving in communities in Scotland.

The meeting at Church Offices in Edinburgh looked at ways the Church can help resource congregations where refugees are eventually settled in Scotland. The focus was on providing practical, sustainable and long term assistance which would complement the initiatives of government and other agencies.

The Church has already been engaging with government, agencies and other churches and faith organisations to raise awareness of what assistance the Church can provide and secure the greatest chance of a coordinated response. Given the size and scale of the Church, the meeting was held in an attempt to ensure the response within the Church itself also benefits from appropriate coordination. It was also recognised that the response, wherever possible, will gain strength from being ecumenical and multifaith. The Church has already issued interfaith statements in the last week to pledge a united response to the refugee crisis, and will continue in this joint working going forward. It is important to also continue campaign work to ensure this issue remains a priority even when the media spotlight moves on.

At present, it is unclear when, where and how many refugees will be arriving in Scotland. There was a recognition that no matter how many find a place of safety here, it will not present a solution to the current catastrophe. Many more displaced people will still be dependent on support beyond our shores, and their needs must not be overlooked. At the same time, the Church has to maintain undiminished the full range of support and services it currently offers on a routine basis to people in Scotland every day of the year.

The meeting heard about the social care network which already exists through CrossReach, the Church's Social Care Council, which may be able to accommodate some of the care needs of those arriving. The Mission and Discipleship Council has the ability to equip church members with appropriate skills to meet the needs of refugees. There was a recognition the Church has a national membership which wants to respond, and there will be ways everyone who wishes can contribute their support to parishes where refugees are settled.

It was recognised that Ministers and church members can play a role in their communities in promoting radical hospitality and welcome for refugees. In some cases, there may be concerns and suspicions about strangers entering their midst. Congregations can play an important role in overcoming these prejudices.

As well as time and talent, the Church also has financial resources and there is the commitment to make money available to aid the short and long term response.

It is intended the meeting will result in a considered action plan to be published shortly. Measures will also be taken to keep members across the Church fully informed about what is happening, and enabled to contribute their own ideas and initiatives.

In terms of resources, ACTS, the Joint Public Issues Team and Christian Aid are among the groups which have made prayers available. Worship resources are now being created which will be distributed through the Church website and other channels in the coming weeks.  Other information is available on the Church of Scotland website and Resourcing Mission.

I’d also like to draw your attention to an initiative next week which will see the Moderator seeking the support of congregations in signing the global education petition Up For School. Two short high quality videos have been produced featuring the Moderator, Gordon Brown, and members of the National Youth Assembly which can be shared with members in church and on social media. The Moderator has also written a letter requesting support, as well as a prayer with prayer points which can be used in worship.

With best wishes

Rev Dr Martin Scott
Secretary, Ministries Council