Welcoming Refugees in the Syrian Kitchen at All Hallows Church

Submitted by Ellis on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 11:14

In the midst of hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers, All Hallows Church in Leeds have welcomed refugees into their community. Revd Heston Groenewald explains how students have got involved, and the impact the project has had.

For two years, All Hallows Church in Leeds has been running a Real Junk Food Café as part of their community outreach. The idea behind it is simple: food that would otherwise go to waste is instead used to cook delicious meals for local people who are struggling to make ends meet. The café operates on a Pay-As-You-Feel basis, which makes the food affordable. People can also cover costs by contributing their skills through volunteering in the café and elsewhere, transforming the process of eating from a financial transaction to a vibrant demonstration of community.

In September, the church opened up the café to local Syrian refugees, forming what they call the ‘Syrian Kitchen’. Every Thursday, local Syrians from the nearby mosque spend the day at the church, cooking a range of delicious and nutritious meals and sharing Syrian life and culture with others in the café and kitchen. After fleeing their homeland, and being witnesses to unspeakable human tragedy and suffering, many of the refugees are now trying to make a new life in the UK. Being part of the café has opened up doors to the community, creating cohesion and understanding between people of different faiths and backgrounds.

“We should have a mindset of generosity rather than austerity. If only we could think in terms of brothers and sisters, of friendships which sprout and flourish, rather than foreigners,” says Revd Heston Groenewald, vicar at All Hallows.

The project has also attracted local university students – both Christians and non-Christians – who have been keen to get involved through volunteering and sharing meals with church members and the refugees themselves. “Every single student involved has said how much they appreciate making meaningful community links with their non-student neighbours. They particularly value the chance to meet and befriend Syrians, to be treated to their delicious cooking, and learn something of their rich and beautiful culture,” says Heston.

Together with the Real Junk Food Café, the Syrian kitchen project has demonstrated a radically different form of outreach and church. Although not explicitly ‘Christian’ in its message, the project brings people together in a safe place through a deep concern for our neighbours. In this difficult climate, where fear and suspicion seem to rule over love and compassion, that message needs to be heard, seen and shared in inspiring ways.

“Many students are happily surprised that the local church (and therefore God!) shares their passion and concern for our Syrian neighbours – and more widely for human rights, social justice and other 'big issues' of 21st century life,” says Heston.

The involvement of students in this and other future projects, such as a winter night shelter at All Hallows in the new year, has developed the church’s mission. According to Heston, this can only be a good way forward for the church: “It is a joy to welcome students into our life and work at All Hallows. We are deeply enriched by their presence, and energised by their commitment and enthusiasm. We are also challenged through their prophetic 'outside the establishment' perspective, which reminds us to keep our churchy habits relevant and focused on the flourishing of people rather than institutions.”

All Hallows Church in Leeds is an SCM Link Church that is passionate about exploring and living out what it means to be a Christian in the 21st Century. The church seeks to respond to the challenge of loving God and demonstrating that love to all people – find out more here.

Tags: RefugeesInterfaithStudents