Church defends decision to let travellers camp on its land

Two boys from a UK travelling community jump on a trampoline outside their caravan in this file picture.Reuters

A Christian community has defended its decision to allow a group of travellers to camp on land in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain.

The travellers arrived and camped without permission on the lovely expanse of green fields in the heart of Bourneville, Birmingham last Thursday. 

Local residents protested and now the Rowheath Pavilion and Pavilion Christian Community, who are responsible for the land, have explained that they gave the group permission to stay. The travellers left, as agreed, a few days later.

Bourneville is known worldwide for its links with the Quaker Cadbury family who developed it as a model village in the 19th century. It is still to this day regarded as one of the best places to live in Britain. No pubs have ever been built there, and Rowheath Pavilion has Bourneville's only licensed bar.

Pastor Mat Wilson shared on Facebook: "It's been an interesting week being Pastor of Pavilion Church as we've openly welcomed a travelling community. We've had many positive responses from the community but also a few negative too. The good news will always face opposition but isn't following Jesus costly sometimes."

A statement posted on their Facebook site, the church said: "As you are probably aware a group of travellers arrived at Rowheath Thursday evening. They set up without permission on the edge of the sports fields. You may also be aware that a lot of parks across Birmingham have had groups of travellers, often staying for up to a week whilst eviction notices are applied (and paid) for and bailiffs and police organised accordingly. Most of the travelling communities headed south following the Appleby Horse Fair, an annual gathering of gypsies and travellers in Appleby, Cumbria."

Rowheath Pavilion in BirminghamRowheath Pavilion/Twitter

The church explained that many factors needed to be considered, including the care of the grounds, the considerations of the community and the resources of the police who are moving groups of travellers on every few days across the city. "But we also had to think about the welfare of the travellers themselves."

The statement goes on to explain how it has applied Christian principles such as "love thy neighbour" and the Parable of the Good Samaritan: "Too often we can shut the door on people, walk past without looking or turn our backs on those in need because our lives are too busy to add someone else's burden to our own, or because their reputation preceding them makes them an unwanted presence, but in this instance we decided it would be good to be hospitable without complaint, to love without prejudging and to not pass this burden on to some other park or green space in the city.

"The agreement with the travellers is that they can stay until 5pm on Sunday, and in return they would need to be respectful to the neighbours, or those using the park, keep the area clean and tidy and generally be a positive presence in our community.

"In return we offered them use of showers and toilets which, as a basic human right, we would offer to anyone in need who asked.

"They have kept to their agreement and have now left, after what was a positive relationship between the Rowheath and Travelling community.

"The world is getting smaller and this means that we will come across more instances where our reactions to those outside our immediate community will be tested. Whether it be with travellers, or refugees or Europeans who don't know if they will have to leave our country in the near future, or in fact anyone. We feel proud to be part of a community that despite initial concerns showed the wider world that everyone deserves respect, love and compassion, no matter your faith, race, gender, beliefs, past, community, wealth or any other factor that might label you different. Let all that you do be done in love and, if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

The Pavilion Christian Community is a member of the Fellowship Churches of Christ, a missional church movement which began over 200 years ago in the UK. Many fellowship churches were among those that joined with Congregtional and Presbyterian congregations to form the United Reformed Church in the 20th century but some, such as the group at Rowheath, have retained the Church of Christ identity.