When I visit prisons, I am always struck by the sound and sight of keys. They are attached to every staff member, and for prisoners far from somewhere they might call home, they are a constant reminder of their deprivation of freedom.
When I was in Israel/Palestine a few weeks ago I was reminded of a different angle on the symbol of the key regarding freedom and home. Many Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes in 1947/48, did so carrying the keys to their homes, and these are still held by families as a symbol of ‘a right to return’. Indeed, when we visited a Palestinian refugee camp we were confronted with numerous pictures and models of keys. Of course, the political situation is complex and once more I was reminded of the importance of listening to people’s stories around ‘home’ and ‘freedom’, which often have a strong sense of ‘the other’ at the heart.
The importance of story around the theme of freedom, home and other, was underlined on my visit to the Holocaust History Museum, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem. It was my second visit and yet the stories of evil seemed even more powerful as I was confronted once more with the horror of the concentration camps, the deprivation of freedom, and the cruelty and hatred meted out on the Jews and people seen as ‘other’.
This week as we have watched scenes of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing homes, desperate for safety and freedom, I wonder how many have done so clutching keys and with a strong sense of being ‘the other’.
The Government sponsorship programme has now opened and there may be individuals in worshipping communities who wish to offer a Ukrainian family a home and give them a key to a safe place. There is now a toolkit of information from the Church of England: Homes for Ukraine | The Church of England Please note that there will be some important information in due course specific to clergy living in accommodation owned by the Diocesan Board of Finance, and contact should be made with the Archdeacons in the first instance. There are some pertinent points on the C of E website in the section headed ‘For clergy considering hosting refugees’:
This undertaking is not simply about accommodation but about how people can work together to enable those potentially seen as ‘other’ to find a home in a new community. Someone might offer the room(s) with the support of those who will offer friendship, practical support, and accompany adults and children through the hard experience of integration.
This is no small step and no short interim chapter in anyone’s story. There is much to think and pray through so that people make a careful response rather than an emotional reaction.
Whatever people choose to do regarding the offer of accommodation and support, Lent seems a poignant time for each of us to ask what our response should be in the face of so many people across our world displaced and othered. As we are rightly angered and moved by the horror of the war in Ukraine and cry out for Christ’s light in the darkness, let us also not forget so many across our world who live amid fear, suffering and conflict. Let us remember the refugees and asylum seekers already present in our diocese (www.garas.org.uk) as well as those across the world (near as well as far) who are othered and who do not feel free or at home. And let us give thanks for Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who moved into the neighbourhood:
‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.’ John 1:14 (The Message)
With thanks and prayers as ever,