Materials for Worship on Sanctuary Sunday

This week we mark Sanctuary Sunday, the day when churches across Scotland, and worldwide, offer their prayers and express their solidarity with displaced people around the world, of whom there are more now than there have ever been before in history. Supporting and caring for refugees is something we’re always passionate about here at St Mary’s so today we join with others in particularly remembering God’s loving concern for the stranger, the alien, the sojourner, and the refugee.

Rachael writes: The story of Hagar (Genesis 21.8-21) is a powerful one to read on Sanctuary Sunday. As a woman who has been forced to leave her home multiple time (see Genesis 16), her story reflects the experiences of many refugees and asylum seekers. Her situation is desperate, and she has been failed by the people around her – the very people we usually consider heroes of the faith. She is dehumanised when Sarah refers to her only as “this slave woman”. Like so many people who are seeking sanctuary she is marginalised, demonised, and criminalised, rather than being treated as equally worthy of respect and dignity.

Tatiana from Odessa in Ukraine compares her own experience of fleeing her home with Hagar’s in these words:

“…you have a long road ahead through this parched land. There is nothing suitable to shelter you from the heat, there is not a single source of water along the road, only what you have taken with you. You are alone; it’s just you and the boy – the son you are responsible for. There is not a single other person around who could help you if necessary. And you wander in a direction unknown to you, no destination, not knowing where to turn, just wandering, hoping for safety. The situation is dire. What could be worse than this? Many Ukrainians have found themselves in this situation during the war. You’re running from danger, but don’t know where to go. In your hand is one suitcase, which now holds all your life’s belongings. And sometimes you don’t even have a suitcase – I did not have time to collect mine. In your hands are the hands of your children. Who will help? Where to run to? Where can you expect help? Everything around is new and unfamiliar. There are people around, but it is as if you are in a desert. Only you and your problems and no-one who could help!”*

At St Mary’s we have been working to find ways that we can help. We have a long standing relationship with Forth Valley Welcome who’s clothes hub for refugees we are now hosting in the church room. We also worked with them to put on a ceilidh for those staying at the Hydro and we collect toiletries that are distributed to those in need.

We support Castlemilk Community Church’s work with the refugees and asylum seekers who live in their area. The rectory garage is regularly packed to the rafters with donations of equipment and clothes for children and families from people all across Dunblane that are distributed weekly to those who need them in Castlemilk. And the Link group is building relationships with people in Castlemilk by hosting family days out in Dunblane. There we see a beautiful exchange of cultures as those who come often bring specialty dishes to share or delight everyone with a song from their homeland.

When God went into the desert to rescue Hagar the first time, she declared God’s name to be “El-roi” – “the God who sees me”. And in our gospel passage today (Matthew 10.24-39), Jesus tells us that a sparrow cannot fall from the sky without God’s knowledge; that even the hairs on our heads are counted. Tatiana from Ukraine writes “God truly sees and understands Hagar, and her worries and pain. God saves and restores her and promises a hopeful future. This is the God who sees you too…This is my God who gives hope, and gives life!”. All those who are forced to flee their homes, all 108.4 million people worldwide, are seen and known and loved by God. And no matter where they come from, how they travel, or where they are going, they deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect that God inherently created them with. All of St Mary’s interactions with people who are refugees or seeking asylum are based in this belief and why our interpersonal relationships are so important. By meeting them on a human level, we see not just number but people who are more than their immigration status; they are individuals with stories, creativity, and gifts to share. As much as we might hope to enrich their lives, we know that our relationships with them have greatly enriched our lives and our fellowship. We are learning to see our friends not as “other” but as fellow sojourners along the way, seeking new and abundant life.

Jesus also reminds us that the truth can be divisive and uncomfortable. Not everyone will like this message of love and care. We might have to step into some difficult places as we have conversations with friends and family, or lobby our MPs and MSPs, or even make changes in our own lives to be able to give in prayer, or financially, or to allow space for relationships with those seeking sanctuary here in Scotland.

When the world had discarded Hagar, God did not. God’s compassion is unfailing, especially for those who are suffering and going through a time of wilderness. We give thanks for those St Mary’s is journeying with and we say, “Yes God, we see what you see!”.

* extract from reflection by Tatiana Bondarenko in Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, The God Who Sees Me: Worship Resources for Sanctuary Sunday 2023