In 2015 Derby Cathedral was the first Cathedral in England to be given Cathedral of Sanctuary status.
In 2021 our participation in the City of Sanctuary network is being reviewed, which means that we are in the process of reviewing what we have achieved over the past six years.
In Matthew 10:40 Jesus says: ‘Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me’, and later in the Gospel during of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats he adds: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.
Hospitality is about working with God to transform unjust structures in society that hold people back from flourishing: its about pursing peace and reconciliation with the most vulnerable and its to be at the heart of our understanding and practice of sanctuary.
In May 2000, just a few months after I had commenced an incumbency in the inner city of east Newcastle upon Tyne, and without any warning, I found myself living in the midst of a Home Office dispersal area for asylum seekers and refugees.
As ecumenical partners we worked together to welcome and support people who had escaped warfare and political pressures from all over the world.
Our ministry as a parish church was transformed overnight as our local communities transitioned to being hospitable to over 50 language groups.
It was a privilege to get to engage with so many cultures from all over the globe, but it was often heart-breaking as we listened to the stories of people who had sought sanctuary in the United Kingdom.
In the Cathedral at present is the exhibition by the artist Nicola Moody called Tear and Wear. Nicola has created textile hangings to reflect the experience of five women who have had the experience of sexploitation.
The language of textiles in each case tells a particular history.
Nicola said: ‘The textile work is a literal manifestation of unravelling, fraying, knotting, the appearance of holes, and different methods of repairs.’ (see www.nicolamoody.co.uk).
Each piece is a metaphor for someone who whose life has been disrupted and damaged by sexual exploitation in a world where there is continued trade in human beings for the purposes of slavery. You can view this moving exhibition in the Cathedral until 24 June.
Derby Cathedral, with many of our parish churches, explicitly aims to be a safe and welcoming space for everyone who comes through its doors.
We wish to be inclusive in the culture we promote and in every aspect of our lives, supporting refugees, asylum seekers and those who are escaping from forms of modern slavery.
We continue to work towards these ends and to the best of our corporate ability fulfil the Cathedral of Sanctuary vision. See www.cityofsanctuary.org – click through on Derby and see what is happening locally!
On 20 June 2021, the Cathedral will mark Sanctuary Sunday and Bishop Libby is joining us to preach.
We trust this will be another key step on our journey together and enable us all to reflect on the presence of God in the experience of sanctuary, both the suffering that those seeking asylum bring with them, and the experience of offering as safe space and warm, unconditional hospitality to the stranger with whom we in God’s grace might become friends.
The Very Revd Peter Robinson
Dean of Derby