Sunday, 22 November 2015

Strangers in a strange land

The oblique reference to a passage in Exodus, and direct reference to the Robert Heinlein science fiction novel are rather relevant to aspects of church life here at the moment.

The island of Bute will receive some Syrian refugee families in the next little while, refugees fleeing unimaginable (for us) horrors of the conflict in their country. This part of their journey may have started from a camp like the one above (photo Al-Jazeera). Their destination is a smallish Scottish island with a smallish Scottish town on it.  The people of that town are working to produce a welcome for their new arrivals – in a carefully managed, subtle, aware style.  Some of the press are trying to make a rather more negative story of it, but the overall story is one of goodwill and a preparedness to welcome these strangers to our strange land. 

And it will be very strange – a cold and wet place, compared to Syria. A place where people speak English, often so quickly and with such a broad accent that even other Scots cannot understand them. A place where the customs, traditions, common ideas and conflicts are very particular and local.  So, many prayers and much hard work ahead to welcome and help them prepare to integrate into Rothesay society.  To allow these people to valued and loved and accepted is an enormous gift that we have to offer.

I have been here (Bute and Cowal, the neighbouring peninsula) as a minister for about 5 and one half years now – and I still have quite a feeling of being a stranger in this strange land.  I am a Scot, but with many more years of living on the east coast of the country and having a centre of gravity over there. The west coast can seem a strange and alien land. My wife is a west coaster – well, a south-west coaster – but it can still all seem a little strange. As a professional church minister, the hard line drawn between catholic and protestants seems to wiggle somewhat as it passes through the Episcopal Church – all rather strange for this strange land.  Even the strange land of ministry as one career – over ten years now, counting my full-time training at college, is a sometimes peculiar place in which to live.

So the Syrians? Will be welcomed as best as can be managed. Volunteers and others will rally round and support as appropriate, and leave well alone as appropriate. Their stories may unfold as we get to know them.  Their status as official refugees rather than asylum seekers means they arrive here with as stable and safe status.  There is a lot of misinformation and rumour about.  These are people who need our help. As Christians, this is clear from all we believe and try to live out. As human beings this must be done and will be done.

And we will welcome these strangers into this strange land.