My daughter, Zoey, 13, and I had a true British holiday.
The journey took us to the village of Crewe in northwest England to visit our cousin C. Alan Golden and his husband, Andy Johnson.
Alan and Andy each have ministry backgrounds. During our holiday, they introduced Zoey and me to some of their projects. “On Faith” will focus on these experiences during the next few weeks.
At St. Mark’s Church in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, we learned about Sanctus, which serves refugees and asylum-seekers.
To obtain asylum in England, you must be displaced from your country and face persecution if you return.
Wars and other conflicts have increased the number of asylum-seekers worldwide. In recent years, displacement of Eastern Europeans and the Middle Easterners has caused some Brits to decry an influx of immigrants.
The U.K. government tends to relocate asylum-seekers to areas with cheaper housing. In so doing, communities may come to blame the newcomers for continued economic issues.
Such is the case in Stoke-on-Trent. This area of the West Midlands region is home to Britain’s highest number of voters who supported Brexit, due mainly to displeasure with immigration.
Years ago, St. Mark’s Vicar Sally Smith saw a need for healing and help. She opened the church to do something she admits “can be very, very messy.”
“This is where the rubber hits the road,” said Sally, Sanctus founder. “It started as some bags of potatoes and carrots on the vestry floor. There’s something powerful about distributing items from the altar.”
Asylum-seekers can’t work until they are designated refugees. In the interim, they receive free housing and 36 pounds per person, per week, ($48). This must cover food, household and personal items and legal expenses. Thus, asylum-seekers are ineligible for other services, such as food bank assistance.
The government estimates asylum decisions take about six months, but many wait two or more years, Sally noted. Uncertainty and sparse resources make Sanctus vital.
“We aim to just love everybody,” she said.
Volunteers offer everything from health services to legal advice. Activities include art classes, cross-cultural worship services and global dinners.
With the weekly Wednesday drop-in comes time to share a chat and cup of tea. Among those we met was Hassan, a volunteer originally from Palestine.
I also talked to Chris, a longtime volunteer who told me Sanctus boasts 23 different languages, many more nationalities and people of all beliefs, from Christian to Muslim to “no faith at all.”
“People come here to be welcomed and … to just be,” said Chris.
Tony Shilkoff coordinates food and personal item distribution. High demand items include everything from “nappies” (diapers) and feminine supplies to tins of diced tomatoes.
They’re vital, if uncomplicated, needs that allow Sanctus to operate on the belief that a few people can make a big difference.
When speaking about Sanctus, Tony tells groups, “A shared load is an easier load.”
“People will tell me they don’t have enough to help,” he explained. “I tell them that if 50 people give me two tins of beans, that’s something. That’s what it takes — a few of us joining a few more to do what we can. That’s what it takes to make a difference.”
For more information on Sanctus, go to www.SanctusStMarks.co.uk.