For Refugees, With Refugees: Advancing Interfaith Responses
The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) has supported refugees since our founding in 1942, when our founders came together to help Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Europe. As citizens and as people of faith, we believe that we have a collective responsibility to help the most vulnerable in our society. So, at a time when the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is at its highest level since the end of the Second World War, it was natural for us to act.
Last week, Christian and Jewish leaders from seven denominations convened in Westminster for CCJ’s first ever workshop to form interfaith responses to the refugee crisis. This workshop was held in partnership with and funded by Near Neighbours. Over two days, we planned how to work together to support refugees.
A highlight was hearing from Lord Alf Dubs, who came to Britain on the Kindertransport and now campaigns for child refugees. He spoke on his experiences as a child refugee and the difficulties facing refugees today, and urged the faith leaders to act. Lord Alf Dubs told us, ‘Faith communities have clout. Use it.’ Later, CCJ President Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg and Revd Caroline Pinchbeck explored how the need to help refugees is grounded in our sacred texts.
Not content to merely talk about the issues, we also visited Notre Dame Refugee Centre together, where they spoke to refugees and volunteers. Back at the workshop we engaged with activists and refugees working in faith communities, including on Near Neighbours projects, and discussed different models of grassroots projects.
At the close of the workshop, we committed to taking action to help refugees: to speak to their councillors and local politicians, to preach to their congregations, and to meet with activists and refugees from other faiths in their local areas. One participant said, ‘the appetite for supporting refugees within faith communities is inspiring’. Several participants preached on the need to support refugees in this week’s Sabbath services.
It is vital that we work between faiths to support refugees. By working side by side, we project the image of the UK that we would like new arrivals to see: as a diverse and tolerant country that celebrates difference. Our communities have tremendous power to welcome in the stranger, and to be a force for good in the public debate around refugees. Finally, as Jews and Christians, we share the commandment from the Hebrew Bible:
‘When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Through our work together this week, we came closer to fulfilling this commandment – and to understanding each other.
The author of this article, Jessica Spencer, is the Programme Manager at The Council for Christians and Jews.
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