Henrietta: How we’re welcoming people this Refugee Week

Published: Tuesday June 18, 2024

The Revd Jo Pestell baptises a person in a paddling pool full of water. The legs of spectators are visible in the picture behind.For Refugee Sunday on June 23, St Catharine’s Church in Gloucester is devoting its morning service to including, celebrating and praying for those seeking sanctuary in our midst.

When an asylum seeker hotel opened close to the church, the worshipping community at St Catharine’s decided they wanted to go the extra mile to make people feel welcome.

Henrietta Cozens, a member of the worshipping community at St Catharine’s, said: “We are getting more intercultural in our worship since we started welcoming asylum seekers to our congregation in early 2022, when an asylum seeker hotel opened 15 minutes walk from our building. We want to encourage other churches in this too.

“While our local hotel is the only one in Gloucestershire still housing 140 asylum seekers (the other four hotels from Cam and Dursley up to Cheltenham have now closed), there are 250 other asylum seekers dispersed throughout the county. In addition: 40 Afghan families (half of which have arrived in the last 6 months) who have been placed in rural settings; 2,000 Ukrainians, half of which remain with their original ‘Homes for Ukraine’ host families; 95 families on resettlement routes (eg from Syria); and a number of others who have gained permission to remain in the UK, have all chosen Gloucestershire as their home, and will be living nearby many other churches.

“Our journey at St Catharine’s began when we welcomed refugees through a weekly English class, and acts of service (such as bike repairs, free groceries). Next we looked at people’s spiritual needs, and started an Iranian discipleship group. We are now branching into intercultural worship.

“We started with occasional Bible readings delivered up front in Farsi (with English text on the screen), and used some multilingual worship songs such as The Multilingual Grace (from Songs2Serve), to reflect and celebrate our cultural diversity. Inviting native speakers to sing with the band helped.

“So people can access what is being said, we use a free online translator to translate our paper service sheets into Ukrainian, Chinese, Farsi and Spanish, reflecting who attends our services.

“Two of our refugees are actually on our tech team, while others sometimes serve teas and coffees or volunteer as Welcomers. This is because people like to serve, which adds to their dignity and sense of belonging.”

Sunday’s service will include worship songs in Farsi (by new Iranian believers), Spanish (to celebrate God bringing members from Central America), and English. There will also be liturgy and prayers for those displaced, an interview with a newly arrived teenager, and the preacher will be Adele Owen from GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers).

This year is GARAS’ 25th Anniversary, and they are holding 25 events across the year to celebrate.  Staff and clients are joining the Gloucester 10k on 30 June and hoping to raise funds through sponsorship.

Resources and information about Refugee Week and making your church more accessible


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