St John the Baptist Church: Communion, Sanctuary and Citizens

St John the BaptistOn Day 2 we started with a Eucharist at St John the Baptist Church and were welcomed by Rev’d Canon Dr Sarah Rowland Jones and then heard from the founder of the Women Seeking Sanctuary Action Group, a Cameroonian refugee Constance Nzeneu, and then from Jonathan Cox about Cardiff Citizens.

Eucharist

We were welcomed at St John the Baptist Church (www.facebook.com/stjohnthebaptistcardiffcitycentre) to a service of Holy Communion (Eucharist or Mass) by Rev’d Canon Dr Sarah Rowland Jones who presided and preached.

Wonderful Welsh singing including (for the benefit of visitors to Wales) Guide me O thou great Redeemer.

The sermon included a challenge to sit loose to our ‘work’ identity, to learn from Mary and Martha. Like Paul in Sunday’s reading from Philippians ‘counting all things as loss’. (But remember, Martha was the one who made her confession of faith in John 11.)

By popular request the intersessions were ‘typed up’ and are available here

From sanctuary to citizenship

Seeking Sanctuary in Wales. 

Q & A at St Johns

 

Constance Nzeneu, Women Seeking Sanctuary Action Group

 

Constance told us her story. She came from Cameroon 6 years ago to seek sanctuary. She was not allowed to work here in spite of being a qualified lawyer and depended on vouchers for some time. It’s hard to explain to children what you can’t buy, and easier to avoid shopping areas.

She escaped deportation twice, which she ascribed to the grace of God, and valued the support of her local congregation. She organised an anti-deportation campaign she had nothing to lose, it gained 3,000 signatures and in 2010 she was given permission to remain.

Constance felt that she had a vocation to challenge injustices in the system and support other women in similar situations and set up the Women Seeking Sanctuary Action Group in 2009. This has been supported by Cardiff Citizens and the Board for Social Responsibility, who provide a platform for women to speak about these issues to people who will listen and help.

Any little help makes a huge difference. It puts a smile on the face.

 

Citizen Organising. Jonathan Cox, Cardiff Citizens

 

www.citizenswales.org

Citizens is based on an American model developed by Saul Alinsky from his experience in downtown Chicago in the 1930s and 40s where people were oppressed by employers but not protected by the state. Civil society was vibrant but divided. There was suspicion between different churches, ethnic groups and between faith and unions, and division rendered them unable to act effectively. 

Alinsky’s genius was to recognise that the only way to deal with oppression was to work together and form alliances on issues where there was a common agenda. There was more that united people than divided them. Together they took on employers successfully, then slum landlords. Power from acting together achieved social justice. Churches realized they needed to engage with issues of justice as well as providing charity.

Challenging injustice at a local level can be even more difficult than nationally or globally. Citizens is there to help local people work for justice when a stronger voice is needed for effective action through building alliances, finding common ground and offering constructive alternatives. People have to do this for themselves. The key is building relationships and listening to what matters to people and communities rather than campaigning as such, though that has its place.

 

  • Don’t stereotype. 
  • Recognise that people have unexpected gifts. 
  • Don’t despise small issues if they are what matter to people. When you have demonstrated that change works, you can take on bigger issues

When people start talking, they discover things they have in common. The Somali community by Cardiff Bay has a long list of injustices; young people especially felt excluded and lacked a stake in the community. Jonathan told them that nothing would change until they were prepared to do something for themselves but Citizens could offer training and support to help bring about change.

The issue that they chose was Halal Chicken. Nando’s in Cardiff Bay did not sell Halal food, and there was almost nowhere in the area where Muslims could gather to eat. Everyone took on a research task and gathered to share ideas. Letters, phone calls and emails to Nandos headquarters asking for a meeting to discuss this received no response, so a chicken run was organised, with media coverage. Progress was made with support from churches and other community groups, who recognized this as a social exclusion issue. A non-confrontational meeting with Nandos was held, We love Cardiff.  We love Nandos.  We want to be able to eat at Nandos in Cardiff.  We want to work with you to help this happen backed by a strong business case and generous supplies of Welsh cakes! 

This successful campaign gave a sense of power and experience in building alliances, reciprocity and working together for the common good in taking on other issues of exclusion and injustice. The next campaign is provision of the living wage.

Citizens groups worked together at the last General Election on ending the detention of children in the immigration system. For the next election, they are looking at issues around social care and also refugee resettlement eg sanctuary for Syrians whose safety cannot be guaranteed in their own country.

 

And the Q & S session following …

Discussion and questions

  • Funding for Citizens groups comes from member organisations, with some seed funding from faith groups, schools, trade unions etc. Local groups are set up as charitable trusts and operate independently as local alliances, with some initial training and on-going support. The Croydon group, for example, worked on cosmetic changes and staff attitudes at Lunar House (the immigration department). 
  • The Anglican Church has the greatest potential for social justice bar none. There is excitement about justice issues in the church but difficulty getting people to act outside the church context  there is huge untapped potential in unengaged members of congregations if we can find the issues that motivate them to act. We need to listen, not tell them!
  • Cardiff Citizens are trying to hear 10,000 stories about what is unfair and could be done better in the local community. St John’s Church is gathering stories over coffee after the service. This is part of discovering God at work everywhere, and realizing that God might be interested in justice issues – such as visitors to Cardiff only having notes from bank machines, not knowing that change is not given on buses and overpaying fares.
  • Community organizing took place in Bristol in areas of obvious deprivation, but it was difficult to link this to issues that concerned the suburban churches. Tackling the education system was also rather too big and complex an issue! Community organizing is easier in urban areas where there are obvious social problems. The rural model is slightly different but can work effectively, especially if it can tie in to the concerns of a local market town.
  • Solidarity is needed for effective access to the places where decisions are made. Broad-based local alliances are required, not just action in and by poorer communities. 
  • Churches have a role in educating about asylum seekers they are human beings, not scroungers or sinners! Language used affects attitudes it can be better to talk about offering sanctuary rather than seeking asylum. 
  • Personal encounters, telling stories, listening to one another and working together for the common good can be transformative for individuals as well as communities.