The kitchen at North Road is the power house for many of our outreach activities and we are always happy to encourage willing helpers. Back in March 2001, we were privileged to have a rather special visitor helping with the washing up after a Christian Aid event, as the then President of the Conference, Rev Inderjit Bhogal, grabbed a tea towel and literally “dried up”.
Inderjit certainly had not been lost for words earlier in the afternoon as he spoke about how there is room for all at God’s banquet, whatever race, age or creed, but human selfishness results in destructive strategies. Some feast at the table whilst others are fed on scraps. Jesus said whenever you meet in my name, have a meal and remember me. Look at the Last Supper in the context of all the meals Jesus had. He ate with everyone, including those who would betray him. He ate with rejects on the edge of society and he gave respect to those of different cultures and faiths. As a Church we should remember “The Lord’s Table” is a Table for All.
On Inderjit’s return visit to Durham in November 2009, he referred to the washing up episode in his sermon. Credit must go to Margaret Lewis for thinking up the snappy title for the earlier article on the President drying up! Once again Inderjit could be found in the kitchen after the service, drying up the coffee cups.
This time the service centred on Bearing Witness to the Truth, illustrated with an amusing tale (although in reality a courageous act) of confronting ignorance and prejudice at a BNP demonstration and being taken for a Muslim for his pains. Inderjit spoke of the inter-faith group he is involved with in Sheffield and how the students had given him a print of the Holman Hunt painting “The Shadow of Death” which he visits the neighbouring city art gallery to see. The picture shows Jesus as a young man stretching his arms after sawing wood in the carpenter’s shop. His shadow pre-figures the crucifixion. Mary is depicted from behind, gazing up at the shadow, having been looking in a box where she has kept the gifts given by the Wise Men. So the picture encapsulates Christ’s birth, life and death.
Inderjit went on to tell us about the “City of Sanctuary” movement for asylum seekers and refugees, established in Sheffield and now embraced by nine other major cities from Bradford to London. The movement creates an opportunity to work with local people to counter some of the hostile attitudes that drive government policy and to create a culture of hospitality and welcome. “This work is urgent and important in our times of open hostility and hatred towards people who come here seeking protection and security – fleeing the torture of persecution or poverty” . Inderjit’s book on the movement contains a picture of the Sanctuary Knocker at Durham Cathedral. Julie was taking him to see the real thing that afternoon. He left us with a challenge. Given Durham’s monastic tradition of sanctuary, hospitality and refuge, why shouldn’t it consider becoming a City of Sanctuary in the 21st century?
1 “Becoming a City of Sanctuary” Craig Barnett and Inderjit Bhogal (Plug and Tap 2009)