How to welcome refugees well

Host a festival, learn their language and take them to the GP, says Emily Shepherd, co-CEO of Welcome Churches

Churches have found themselves on “an amazing journey” of revitalisation after receiving bespoke training to welcome refugees, Emily Shepherd, co-CEO of Welcome Churches said.

Welcome Churches has created a network of 1,100 refugee-friendly churches that have been trained to offer “a cross-cultural, trauma-informed welcome” to refugees and asylum-seekers that aims to be accessible to them even if they are moved around the UK at short notice.

Emily was speaking at our annual conference of the diocesan-based Together Network of small charities, which is convened by CUF.

She said arrivals from Hong Kong had given one church in Warrington “an energy, and a new momentum”, and other churches had grown to the point where they had set up new congregations to accommodate the different cultures that had arrived in their communities.

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Emily told representatives that although there was a strong biblical mandate for welcoming refugees, churches may need to persuade people of the need to do so.

“The biblical mandate to welcome refugees goes far beyond ‘welcome the stranger’,” she explained, and pointed to the vision in Revelation of “all the tribes and tongues being gathered before the throne of God. There is a special blessing of God’s Spirit when the different nations are gathered together,” she added.

She acknowledged that some communities felt hostility and fear towards refugees arriving. But, she argued, if hostility towards refugees arises in a town where residents feel disenfranchised from community decision-making, “this disenfranchisement isn’t just about refugees arriving; those refugees are a scapegoat for a lot of disenfranchisement over many years.”

“Churches, as local agents, have a pivotal role to play in changing local narratives,” she added, and outlined practical ways they could do this.

She recommended referring to refugees in terms of commonalities: “Meet this mum who’s just arrived in our community, or this engineer, or this doctor, or this builder, rather than emphasising the differences there are.”

She suggested churches could “create strong communities and help new arrivals to thrive”, by providing space for cultural groups to meet, by building bridges between the refugee and the host community, for example by two-way language learning, and by helping refugees connect with state structures such as local government, healthcare or education.

She also encouraged churches to put on special “friendship festivals” to “celebrate the different people arriving in our community”. Such events are easy to invite everyone to and they break down fear, she said, adding: “Social capital can be built in lots of ways by bringing the community together to learn from each other and just having a good time.”

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