Celebrating Refugee Week

Brian Curnew highlights St James’s commitment to supporting refugees through various initiatives, culminating in a Refugee Week celebration that underscores the importance of sanctuary, inclusivity, and community in both faith and action.

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On Sunday 23 June St James’s will be marking Refugee Week with a Celebration Lunch – all welcome – ‘celebrating the strength, resilience, and success of every member in our International Community’.

Refugee Week, this year 17 – 23 June, promotes awareness of Refugee and Asylum issues, and draws attention to ways in which support is, and can be, offered.

St James’s been seeking to promote awareness and offer such support over many years.  The present SJP International Community goes back to 2016 when, pre-Covid, a congregational initiative began a Saturday Morning Breakfast, offering hospitality and such support as we were able – leading on to the appointment of a Refugee Support Worker, currently Max Fedyk, and most importantly the growing SJP community of people with whom we’re invited now to celebrate.

We will not be alone however in marking this Sunday.  Coming at the end of Refugee Week, it will be observed in many places as Refugee Sunday.

Through June there have already been many events in London and across the country in what is effectively Refugee Month (coinciding, with meaning for many refugees including at St James’s, with Pride Month).

One such event was on 4 June, when London Churches Refugee Fund, with which we are associated, held its Annual Assembly and Address at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.  I’m going to write now about that because this year’s address was truly inspirational – and for sharing.

The speaker was Revd. Dr. Inderjit Singh Bhopal, himself a refugee, and Methodist with a long ministry in conflict resolution and refugee support.

Based in Sheffield, in 2005 he and Craig Barnett founded City of Sanctuary UK.

Two years later, with the support of the city council and over 70 local community organisations, the city became the UK’s first ever City of Sanctuary.  Since then, hundreds of local councils, schools, universities, libraries, theatres and more have been awarded with Sanctuary status, pledging to create a culture of solidarity, inclusivity and welcome.

Cathedrals and churches are in this too, as ‘Churches of Sanctuary’ promoted by Churches Together In Britain and Ireland.  I for one have not known of this.


But it is his reflection which is for sharing, because I recognise in it what I believe has undergirded, does undergird, what we are about at St James’s, and is for repeating now.  Here is my summary –

Sanctuary:  the offering of safety, protection, welcome, hospitality and support.

A word, which however anyone else thinks of it, for us as Christians has ‘Holy’ (Sanctus) in its root, so that offering it is ‘holiness in action’;

Biblical reflection –  on sanctuary sought, offered, given – repeatedly, a consistent theme, inescapably there in the Bible, from Abraham to the supper when fellow-travellers press the risen Jesus to stay with them at Emmaus;  sanctuary given proving to be blessing for those who give as well as those who receive.

‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me…’ (Matthew 25:35)

‘Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me’ (Matthew 10:40)

The Eucharist:  reflection on the Holy Communion as Christ’s hospitality, which is for sharing – which we at St James’s recognise as the foundation of our own sense of community.

Just a word about boats:  reminding us that in the Bible Noah’s Ark is a place of safety, and a boat is a long-standing image of Christ’s church, where we even call a church’s central part ‘the nave’ (Latin for boat) – which I will add leads towards  what we call the sanctuary with its tradition of being untouchable and safe (hence the common use of the word).

Lest any of this seems abstract, Inderjit was speaking all the while of ‘holiness in action’, about need  recognised, about building community, being welcoming, speaking out for humanity, and action opposing discrimination.  He was authoritative about the facts of migration, globally and in relation to the UK, and how these are for sharing as the basis of serious and necessary discussion –  and policy-making.

I must add how everything he said was commended by the clarity of his thinking, his clear reflectiveness, and the gentleness of his delivery.


Key words:

Be Human

Be Hospitable

Always Challenge Hatred

Build Hope


For many people at St James’s, our own International Community and ongoing Refugee and Asylum Support are precious.   There are people involved too beyond our own church community, in other worship centres, and more locally, and with agencies and charities.  In London Diocese, there are in its Compassionate Communities network one hundred churches involved.  It is good that we know that in this as in all aspects of our life as a church, we are part of something bigger.

The Churches of Sanctuary movement then is nationwide,  and in our own Sunday Celebration also we will be part of something bigger.

Please come to join our Celebration!

God bless the work!

Brian Curnew


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