Christians urged to welcome Syrian refugees as part of Christian mission

Parishes across Britain have been urged to join Christian "mission" by housing Syrian refugees as the government's resettlement strategy gains momentum.

Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, wrote a blog post on Monday calling on churchgoers to resettle vulnerable refugees as part of spreading the gospel alongside their work with food banks, street pastors and debt advice services.

Cottrell was one of the 84 bishops to sign a letter calling on the government to increase the number of refugees relocated to Britain "to a minimum of 50,000". The initially private letter prompted controversy after it was published by the Church of England because they had "not received any substantive reply" from the Prime Minister.

The government's scheme will only resettle Syrian refugees from UNHCR camps in the surrounding countries. No refugees from Europe will be acceptedReuters

Monday's remarks are the latest in the Church's campaign to offer hospitality to refugees relocated to Britain under the government's scheme. 

"Faith communities can really make a difference and put local, warm, welcoming flesh on the bones of statutory structures," wrote Cottrell.

"This is not the church saying 'look at us being charitable!', but the people of God letting their deeds speak for Him.

"Helping to support displaced people into a sustainable, long-term future amidst a strange culture is not for the short term and it is not for the faint-hearted.

"It is brilliant if we churches can provide premises, or money, or a friendly welcome: much better if we can commit to long-term, costly partnership with local authorities and charities to go the distance."

The debate over refugees has become more toxic since the bishops' letter was published in October. Anti-Islamic groups such as Pegida have gained momentum across Europe and incidents such as the attacks in Cologne on New Year's Eve have shifted public opinion away from initial sympathy for refugees fleeing warfare and persecution in the Middle East. 

However Cottrell maintained that more should be allowed in. 

"Right now, it is a key moment for churches to be pressing forward on those 20,000," he wrote. "The sooner and the more straightforwardly they can be helped to settle in this country, the stronger will be the case for taking more."

David Cameron's initial pledge to resettle 1,000 by last Christmas, has now been achieved and the government is now looking to house nearly 5,000 per year for the next four years which, Cottrell suggested, will take "more planning".

The blog post came as the Church published updated information on how parishes and dioceses can help support refugees.

The Bishop of Durham, Rt Rev Paul Butler, co chair of the National Refugee Welcome Board, said: "Church of England parishes and dioceses have already responded with great generosity to the refugee crisis in Europe through fundraising and practical help here in the UK.

"The Church of England dioceses are well placed to support the work of local authorities and established agencies: not just helping to provide a welcome for refugees as they first arrive, but also ensuring that they receive crucial long term support."