“We can take still more”
The Synod of the Diocese of Sydney has called on the government to increase the refugee intake to allow for more Syrian refugees, while calling on Sydney Anglicans to show ‘concrete acts of mercy and generosity’.
The final night of Synod was given over to speeches and ideas from the floor on how to help the contingent of twelve thousand refugees who will reach Australia’s shores in the year ahead.
It was revealed that the Board of Anglican Retirement Villages is considering how older Syrian refugees might be helped by the ARV Housing Assistance programme, in particular at accomodation currently being built in Penrith.
“It really is hard to imagine 7.6 million displaced people - not quite twice the population of Sydney - without a home, dependent upon aid, seeking safety and the food and the peace and security that you and I take for granted.” the Principal of Moore College, Dr Mark Thompson, said in moving the motion. “This nation of ours is obscenely wealthy on the world scale. We have the capacity to be generous, far more generous, I would suggest, than just the 12,000 we have so far agreed to take.”
Anglicare, which is the lead agency for the Diocesan response, has already raised more than 250 thousand dollars for refugee support.
“The motion before us provides us with an opportunity as a synod to stand with our Archbishop on this issue, to give thanks to God for his leadership, to commit ourselves to support him in prayer, to pray for those who are directly affected by this horrific conflict, and to explore concrete acts of mercy and generosity.” Dr Thompson said. “We know that some have used this conflict as an opportunity to persecute Christians in particular. IS has targeted Christians for the most brutal treatment, not only in Syria but also throughout the Middle East. For that reason the motion explicitly mentions those who have suffered persecution for the name of Jesus. But we know that others have been persecuted too and this is not a time to be sectarian or parochial.”
Dr Thompson said the motion commends the federal government for its initial intake of 12,000 refugees and “calls on it to consider taking still more, so that those who have suffered so much might find a safe haven among us, a home free from terror and violence and persecution, but a place where they might be genuinely free.”
The Synod then turned to a series of practical measures churches could take, as Dr Thompson put it, as “an opportunity for us to stand in the midst of our community and demonstrate the open-handed generosity of our heavenly Father and the compassion of the Lord Jesus.”
Ideas included Christian businesses offering employment, tutoring, practical help such as ESL and even using soccer as a way of communicating to new arrivals.
The Bishop of Georges River, Peter Lin, said many refugees would settle in areas such as Liverpool, Bankstown and Blacktown
“I have confidence in our churches in the area to provide what they need - but they are not the most well resourced.” Bishop Lin. “They (the refugees) need personal connection, and people to really love them. Helping them enrol their kids in school - taking them on a picnic or to the zoo. This is the hard part of loving these hurting people that God has sent right to our doorsteps. It takes effort, inconvenience and commitment. And it takes more than just giving our money - we don’t want to just leave the hamper at the door.” Bishop Lin said.
One church worker who is involved in ministry to Muslims made an impassioned plea for Sydney Anglicans to invest ‘time’ in the refugees.
“To go and visit someone in their home is the most important thing you can do. To let them serve you, it will just make their lives worth living again.” she told the Synod. “I visit a woman who is Syrian and she has told me that she was at a point where she didn’t think she could keep going but when I and others starting visiting her, she felt hope.”
A number of speakers emphasised the long term commitment that would be needed to provide, in the Archbishop’s words, ‘a warm and generous welcome’.
“Once the media cycle moves on people may lose interest, but let’s make our (Sydney Anglicans) response so overwhelmingly positive that the Federal Government will say ‘we can do more’." Anglicare CEO Grant Millard told the Synod.
The motion passed overwhelmingly.