Refugees and asylum seekers star in Church of England's Christmas advert

(Photo: Church of England)

Asylum seekers and refugees are the real-life stars in the Church of England's new advert inviting people to church this Christmas. 

A video launched today shows the diverse congregation of St Peter's Church in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, preparing for Christmas. 

The church is situated in a government dispersal area for asylum seekers and migrants who are still awaiting an answer to their applications from the Home Office. 

Parish priest, Rev Bill Braviner said: "Jesus was a refugee, and the themes of displacement and journeying are at the heart of the Christmas story.

"Nowadays journeys are not made by donkey or camel but as in the time of Jesus they can be perilous – especially for those fleeing oppression and war.

"The star on our church shows Jesus as the destination for all who travel to Christmas, from near and far, wherever they are in the world, and the best bit is that the story doesn't end after the Christmas lights have come down."

In the video, members of the congregation take turns in speaking lines from the popular carol, We Three Kings, with one line being spoken in the Farsi language by Michael, an asylum seeker who fled his native Iran.

Also featuring in the video are other members of the church's English Language Class ministry, which has students from over 30 countries.

Asylum seeker Michael, one of the real-life stars in the #FollowTheStar video

In the advert, Michael says: "In Iran, it is not always easy to be a Christian, but Jesus helped me, and I want to follow him at Christmas and all year round.

"I have found peace at this church and have been embraced by the congregation. Christmas can be a time of new life and hope for all who have had sadness and turmoil in their life."

A special arrangement of 'We Three Kings' by the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir - the choir of St James's Church, Picadilly, in London - provides the musical backdrop of the video. 

The video campaign is part of #FollowTheStar, the Church of England's Christmas campaign inviting people to discover the joy of Christmas and resourcing churches in their activities during the festive season. 

Last year, the #FollowTheStar campaign reached over eight million people through social media, as well as millions more through print and broadcast. 

Across the country, churches and cathedrals are taking part by displaying stars, handing out reflection booklets and inviting people to services and events through – the CofE's 'church-finder'. 

This year, the Church of England is hoping to reach even more people through the launch, also today, of its Google Home smart speaker app that can help people get involved with #FollowTheStar and find their nearest church. 

It follows the huge success of the Church of England's Alexa skill, which has attracted more than 130,000 questions in just 18 months.

At the launch of the #FollowTheStar campaign at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "Christmas is rightly a time for celebration, bringing joy and comfort to the lives of others. The reason we do this is that we are each offered the most extraordinary gift at Christmas in the birth of Jesus.

"I hope that everyone who sees this campaign, whether or not they know anything about Jesus, will feel moved – like the Magi – to follow the star to church and to ask the questions: 'why am I here, what am I for, and why I am loved?'

"It doesn't matter who you are – whether you're a regular church-goer, or you never go to church, there is something in #FollowTheStar and in Jesus for everyone."