Rev Heston Groenewald, Vicar of All Hallows Church, Leeds, and recipient of the 21 for 21 award for his work with refugees, writes:
All Hallows Leeds, like many other churches, synagogues and mosques, welcomes refugees and asylum seekers with open arms. This is not a ‘program’ or slick, organised church ministry; it looks more like making an occasional new friend, and then scrambling around doing anything necessary to help them survive and hopefully thrive. It is relational and chaotic and creative and complicated – and totally transformative.
One of my favourite examples is the friendship our church has formed with Leeds’ Syrian Community (SCL), which started with a chance encounter and has blossomed into all sorts of unexpected fun and games and mutual blessings.
One freezing Leeds night, a group from All Hallows joined a vigil for Syria, and met the inspirational Sawsan and Fawaz Alghofari: a wonder-working couple from Damascus who co-ordinate SCL, and work tirelessly supporting Syrian refugees and asylum seekers as they settle into Leeds.
Ramadan was approaching, and we offered to host SCL for weekly iftars. Partly ‘to help Syrians meet some Yorkshire natives!’ (said Fawaz, with a twinkle in his eye), and partly to provide Syrians with safe space to share their very particular, very heartbreaking stories and life experience: ‘after fleeing their homeland, and being witnesses to unspeakable human tragedy and suffering.’
These iftars were a hit with Syrians and natives alike, so through the following year SCL returned for weekly kitchen take-overs, to share Syrian cuisine and culture in our community café.
This was delicious and educational and totally transformative for all involved – and particularly for us Christians. What a lesson in humility, to offer our Anglican ‘power and privilege’ (i.e. our building) for the empowerment of an ‘other’. Our Syrian friends could host us as guests: a gift to us in their generous amazing hospitality; and a gift to them in the opportunity to give rather than receive – to be active rather than passive – in a time when their immigration status stripped away most/all of their power and privilege and agency.
Huge blessings all round. Alleluia from me – and last word to Fawaz in his cool Syrian accent: ‘The church welcomed local Syrian refugees, forming the ‘Syrian Kitchen’. Every Thursday, local Syrians from the nearby mosque spend the day at the church, cooking a range of meals and sharing Syrian life and culture with neighbours from around Hyde Park. Being part of the café has opened up doors to the community, creating cohesion and understanding between people of different faiths and backgrounds.’