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Pastoral Letter October 2105

Dear Friends,

A train full of passengers arrives at a busy city station. It’s been on a long journey physically and emotionally. People are tired beyond belief. They are strangers to this place, far from home. Many do not expect to see that home again. It has gone, and along with it everything they have known. Many have lost family as well as livelihood. It has been a Damascus Road experience. Literally.

For many of them, Damascus was home or at least the capital city of their country. But Damascus lies nearly 3,000 miles behind them, and the memories they carry from their homeland of Syria will be difficult to bear. They have travelled from a place of war and devastation and ruin, to a place of successful commerce, trade and affluence. But something that our cynical suspicious self-interested world might have found even more miraculous has happened. For on the platform waiting for these refugees is a crowd of people ready to welcome them.

To these strangers on the train, the people of Frankfurt cheer a welcome home. Banners declare that welcome in bright colours. As the doors of the train open people reach out to embrace them, others hand out food and supplies

Transport awaits to take them to a facility from which they can begin a new life. They will not spend tonight sleeping out in the open, or risking stormy seas in tiny boats. They will not be behind barbed wire, or marshalled by armed police. They will be fed and warm and safe. They will be addressed by name.

     I found it deeply moving to watch this scene on the early morning news today as I caught up on world events before worship. The thoughtfulness and compassion of ordinary people who found a priority and a privilege in welcoming the stranger and refugee to their home city. It made me even more ashamed to be identified with the government of my own country which says we do not have room; political parties who say this is not our responsibility, that there are other places for “them” to go other than Europe.

     The fact is that in God’s eyes there is no “them”. There is only “us”.

     We are called to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. So we cannot love

God while ignoring the stranger.

     On that platform Christ was present among the people who welcomed fellow human beings with open and generous arms. People of many faiths and no faith stood together as sisters and brothers; strangers who still saw in another a person who mattered. Yet Christ was not only present in the welcoming committee. Christ was present in the refugees, far from home, fleeing from danger. For in his earthly life, Jesus had been one of them. In a Bethlehem out-house where there was no room for a pregnant woman or her child, and in Egypt where a family fled from the anger and violence of a King, Christ had travelled homeless and far from home. On a Frankfurt platform, he found himself welcomed home.

Carey Saleh