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Like many of us all around the world, at St Ethelburga’s for the last 18 months we have been observing the refugee crisis worsen and asking what our response should be.

As a team, we spent many months talking to different people, mapping the organisations working within this space, organising a series of volunteering expeditions and reconnaissance missions to Lesbos, to Calais, and to camps in mainland Greece, and more recently, led by Jo Winsloe, working with a group of passionate young leaders and social activists who came back from Europe blown open and awash with ideas about how to help.

Through all of this, as an organisation, it’s been hard to resist the pressure or expectation that we get together a coherent strategy, a defined way of responding.  We need a plan.  We need projects that meet key needs, fit within our mission statement, are achievable and likely to be looked on favourably by funders.

Recently, I realised that in many ways this is jumping the gun, and what is needed is to open up to sharing with the wider community our own journey in relation to the huge numbers of people who are displaced around the world, and those are in or likely to arrive in the UK.

As the world struggles to relate to this phenomenon, as humanitarian organisations bend under the weight of need, as leaders and politicians formulate their policies and positions, and as societies fracture or readjust – it seems something entirely new is called for, that there is an oppotunity to change the way we think about identity on a deeper level.   At St Ethelburga’s, we will be positioning our response to this as an open enquiry in which we will ask a range of questions, try out different ways of meeting, reflect together and share about what we learn.  We see it not as a problem to be solved, but rather an invitation to open our hearts, to reach out from a new sense of shared humanity, and to grow in our willingness to listen, for these stories need to be told and heard.

We hope to try out some of the following ideas, reaching out to those we can work with.

  • Taking cohorts of volunteers to work in refugee camps, and fundraising for NGOs working on the front line
  • Sharing the stories of refugees and asylum seekers, as a way of building understanding, humanising ‘the other’ and generating empathy
  • Contributing to acculturation programmes and English classes to help recently arrived refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to adjust to life in the UK
  • Hosting public dialogue spaces for Londoners to express responses, feelings, concerns about immigration and refugees in the UK
  • Hosting experimental spaces for encounter that go beyond the labels of ‘refugee’ and ‘Londoner’ or ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘volunteer’, and allow people to connect as equal human beings and engage in mutually enriching dialogue
  • Entering into an exploration of meaning and sense-making  – asking what the hidden opportunities are beneath the unfolding crisis, reflecting on our capacities and limitations to grow in our humanity
  • Exploring resilience – what values sustain us and enable us to witness and engage sustainably with the suffering of others and the perceived threats to our own way of life
  • Looking at how we work together – how we apply interconnectedness in our responses at all levels
  • Exploring faith, and asking what it means to put spiritual principles into action in the face of overwhelming need.

We enter into this enquiry with the knowledge that the crisis triggers many different responses in people and that true peace-making requires the ability to hold multiple contradictory perspectives without judgement.

Over the coming months, we’ll be inviting wider engagement with this enquiry – which we see as an enquiry for our times, and an enquiry for all of us as members of the human family.

We hope you will join us in this journey.

To connect with us on this theme email Jo Winsloe, Project Leader on jowinsloe@stethelburgas.org 

The People of the Earth project.

Justine leads on vision, strategy, management and fundraising.  Her raison d’etre is bringing people together and co-creating innovative projects rooted in worldview of interdependence.  Her biggest achievement is building a dedicated and passionate team, who she feels privileged to work alongside.  She has a Ph.D in psychology and her first job (usefully) involved training an impossibly grumpy camel on a small Danish island. Her first book, Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change is a reflection of six years of work with the younger generation at St Ethelburga's.     Justine can give workshops and keynotes on:  faith and the future; sacred activism; building resilience for a dystopian world; peace-making and conflict transformation and the role of inner work in effective social change.  

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