17–23 June is Refugee Week, and churches are encouraged to mark Sanctuary Sunday on 23 June. In a guest blog, Revd Inderjit Bhogal argues that welcoming outsiders should be core to Christian discipleship
“In a world of hostility there is a counter-cultural gospel summons to practice hospitality.”
– Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation and Obedience: From Faithful Reading To Faithful Living
God is with us and takes sanctuary among us.
Yet communities continue to create outsiders: those who are displaced, the “strangers”.
Jesus said that his followers will see and serve him in those considered to “the least important”:
“Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me”Matthew 25: 34-36
Perhaps Jesus’ most subversive activity, for which he was criticized, was to eat with those considered to be the outsiders or social outcasts of his day. He expressed his solidarity with the most marginalized people around him by sharing food with them, and eating with them.
We meet God when we break bread with others. This is beautiful gospel wisdom. Christian discipleship is about being on the way, following Christ, and encountering Christ in the stranger. The followers of Jesus have no option but to welcome the stranger, and to share good hospitality.
The idea of Church of Sanctuary, and Sanctuary Sunday, has flowed from the City of Sanctuary movement which I founded when I was a minister in Sheffield. It is rooted in the ancient Hebrew concept of Cities of Refuge (which can be seen in Numbers 35; Joshua 20; Deuteronomy 4).
The annual Sanctuary Sunday is the Sunday at the end of Refugee Week, which this year is 23 June 2019.
Sanctuary Sunday is to celebrate the contribution of refugees and those seeking sanctuary. It provides an opportunity for congregations to remember and bring the theme of refugees and their contributions into worship and prayer.
A congregation may use Sanctuary Sunday to commit themselves to becoming a Church of Sanctuary, and as an annual opportunity to review and renew this commitment.
In a Church of Sanctuary, the whole congregation is committed to embedding a culture of welcome, hospitality and protection and safety of the most vulnerable, especially refugees and those seeking sanctuary, among them; learning about those who need protection and safety; and sharing their sanctuary work with others with pride.
Resources to develop and promote the idea of Church of Sanctuary and Sanctuary Sunday are available through CTBI, which you can find here.
You can find more resources at:
Some of these words have been taken from the Sanctuary Sunday resources, which can be found here: https://ctbi.org.uk/sanctuary-church-sunday-23-june-2019/
Inderjit Bhogal is a Methodist Minister, and founder and President of City of Sanctuary. He was born in Nairobi, where he lived until the age of 11. As a minister, he has worked with others to critique and challenge policy and procedure where it has been unjust and discriminatory. He has been working to build the City of Sanctuary movement for many years. There are now over 40 cities and towns in Britain and Ireland working with the City of Sanctuary vision. You can find out more about Inderjit at www.inderjitbhogal.com.