St Rumwold – perhaps one of the strangest saints I have heard of. An infant who (legend says), having professed his faith at birth, requested baptism and delivered a sermon, died by the age of 3.

Extract from Reflections Journal – Wednesday 30th August 2017

Leaving the luxury of the Dandelion Room behind I set off at 8:30 to walk down to St Rumwolds church in Bonnington. This is where I was to have spent the night and would be meeting up with Alan, who would be walking with me as far as Hythe. Alan arrived just before 10 and we were soon on our way along the footpath besides the Royal Military Canal. The dry start gave way after about an hour and we walked for the rest of the day in torrential rain, but although we were both pretty much soaked through by the end of our walk my poncho did a fine job of keeping my rucksack dry. I did however manage to lose my somewhere on the path – the second hat fatality of this pilgrimage. It was really good to have the opportunity to talk theology and faith with Alan – the kind of conversation that I think is difficult to have sitting in an office or the comfort of a lounge. We talked about religiosity and radicalism and also of issues more personal too, and I am reminded again of the privilege, as a minister, of being invited into the lives of people as they share their joys and sorrows with you. The Royal Military Canal Path finally brought us into Hythe and I bid farewell to Alan before continuing this stage of my walk to Folkestone.

Folkestone Baptist Church was busy on this Saturday. On their website it says this:

Being an active part of the local community is our reason for being here. Because we love Jesus, we love the community that he has placed us in and want to see all people living fulfilled, whole lives, as God intended. Body, mind, spirit – all are important to God and to us.

Sometimes I think a church website can be a place to advertise what the church would really like to be, but at Folkestone this statement really does ring true. The work they are doing across all ages withing the community really is commendable, and the church building, which is relatively modern, is open to the community and used by the community and it has a real sense of being at the heart of the community. During the evening we talked about the local response to the refugee crisis and reflecting on the conversation later I tried to pull together my perceptions of how the church response had differed as I moved from West to East across the country. During my brief encounters with just a few churches as I journeyed from Cornwall, through Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Sussex and Kent, I had a sense that there was a more urgent awareness, and perhaps response, from churches the further East I travelled. I wondered whether this had something to do with the proximity to, or distance from, the major ferry terminals and ports, and if this snapshot I had was an honest reflection of the situation.

Earlier this year the government released figures which suggest a different picture when viewed from the local authority response.

Scotland has taken four times as many Syrian refugees as Greater London, while Northern Ireland has taken over 300 more than the whole of the east of England.

Relative to their populations, northern England has taken over twice as many Syrian refugees as the South.

Overall, almost a third of local authorities are yet to take any Syrian refugees.

According to this BBC report some of them most welcoming places in the UK are some of the poorest areas in the country. The varying costs of settling refugees in different areas is given as one reason for the difference along with issues such as the already short supply of local authority housing in some areas. Of course these figures ans statistics relate directly to official local authority responses and I am still left wondering whether the relative affluence of churches in their own local communities has an impact on how they respond to situations like the refugee crisis. Is it possible that where a church is situated in a less well off area, where it’s own members are perhaps themselves having to cope with the challenges of low incomes, unemployment and other social ails, they are better able to understand the need to respond?

Over the past few years I have been challenged by God about my own personal response to the issue of homelessness in the UK. I am painfully aware that there was a time in my life when I walked past people on the street without giving them a first glance let alone a second, and I am conscious that a key part of the shift in my attitude was directly related to a time when I was struggling to find a roof over my head, and later my conversion. I recently shared this with the church where I minister and have invited them to join with me in prayerfully considering and evolving a meaningful response to homelessness as it manifests itself close to us. Cambridge, just 10 miles from our own small rural community, was recently identified as 1 or 2 ‘Homeless Hot-spots’ in the country and I believe that God expects those of us nearby, and not just in the city, to respond to the needs of these individuals who find themselves in this situation.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Matthew 25:40 KJV

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