When ‘they’ are ‘us’ and ‘we’ are the body of Christ….

By The Rector
Originally written for the Via Media blog
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The Rector with children

‘We welcome you into the fellowship of faith; we are children of the same heavenly Father; we welcome you’

Words that we said with great joy following the baptism of a little boy whose name is ‘Marvellous’ on Easter morning at St Leonard’s in Streatham.

His older sister received her first communion at the same service and his brother shared the best view in the building with me, as I announced the blessing with him cheerfully perched on my hip.

Present in the congregation that morning, as always, was a rich diversity of people. We are proud to be an intergenerational, multi ethnic and fully inclusive church. Among our number are many from the Windrush generation, arriving from the Caribbean two generations ago to drive our buses, work in our hospitals and administrative structures, all committed to playing their part in enabling Britain to flourish as a nation. They are every bit as much a part of the body of Christ in Streatham as I am.

The recent scandal concerning their treatment by the Home Office has caught the public imagination and quite rightly so, because it exposes far more than simply an administrative failure. It has bought to our attention countless stories of people who have been treated without the dignity or respect that they deserve by the processes that we currently have in place for dealing with immigration.

As a church in South London we have members who week by week travel to Yarlswood to register themselves as those ‘without right to remain’; among them Marvellous and his family.

It is easy to think in terms of targets and outcomes when you are dealing with figures and spreadsheets in Whitehall, but when ‘they’ are ‘us’ and ‘we’ are the body of Christ it feels very different.

I have been touched by the stories I have heard about why people are here in the UK and I have yet to encounter the stereotyped ‘free loader’ that some would have us believe in.

I have children in my Sunday School who have never known life anywhere else and are fully integrated in their schools and the community. I have couples in loving legitimate mixed-race marriages who are being scrutinized for being a ‘sham’. I have prayed with a single mother whose brother was murdered in her native Nigeria, both her parents are dead, and she is terrified that after 10 years in the UK she might be sent back and what might become of her and her daughter there.

None of this undermines the fact that immigration is a challenge and that there are people without a right to remain, who should return to their homeland, but what the ‘targets and the measurable outcomes’ fail to do is to engage compassionately with the individual stories such as these.

Dishonesty among those who are public servants is always disappointing, but it happens, it always has. This time the axe falls upon Amber Rudd but she will certainly not be the last. In any case, this is not the scandal of Windrush, the scandal is that as a nation, whose roots are in the Christian tradition, we have denied our fellow humans beings the compassion, dignity and frequently, the justice they deserve.

The Bible sets out an overwhelming precedence for the way in which we should treat the ‘alien, foreigner, stranger and sojourner’ in our midst and it is not an unreasonable demand:

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’.

It is simply about showing love toward our neighbours. What Windrush has exposed is that we have failed in this most basic of statutes.

In Streatham, we give thanks for the ‘angels’ God has sent our way, because through them we are enriched by a diversity we would not otherwise know, and we are learning what the body of Christ really looks like and it is quite Marvellous.