Friday, 10 November 2006

Faith in Action

As the father of two young children, ‘faith in action’ for me means above all trying to live faithfully in the way we are as a family. Kate and I have a daughter, Moya, who is five, and Jonathan, who is three. Both of us work part-time and share the childcare. This experience of caring for my children has made me more aware of some of the challenges of living in a way that is faithful to the guidance of the Spirit.

One of my biggest struggles is with trying to practise peace at home. Kate and I are trying to teach our children respect and care for themselves, other people, and all living creatures. But it makes me more aware of just how difficult it is for me to live that in my own life, and my responsibility to keep trying to practise it in all my relationships. I read a quote by Fay Weldon recently, “The most wonderful thing about not having children must be that you can go on thinking of yourself as a nice person.” My children regularly bring me into contact with my own anger and impatience, as well as the sheer humiliation of losing my temper in an argument with a five year old! And I’m painfully aware that nothing I say about peacemaking will make any impression if I am not able to demonstrate it in my own relationship with them.

It’s also important to us to give our children opportunities to experience something of spiritual reality for themselves. We have an attic space that we use as a prayer room, and we have started having some prayer time with Moya and Jonathan some days after dinner. I explained to them that when we pray together we open our hearts to God and ‘breathe in light and love’. Then we sing a simple song and think of someone we want to send love to. I hope that for both of them a practice like this can give them a taste of the reality of God, so that the religious language and concepts they acquire later on might point to something that they already recognise from their own experience. And we are grateful for the Meeting too, which gives them the opportunity to experience that as part of a supportive community.

Another area that is very important to us as a family is hospitality, and especially hospitality to asylum-seekers. A few years ago Kate and I lived in Liverpool and we got to know a lot of asylum-seeker families who were living nearby. One evening a friend brought over a woman she had found walking around the streets with nowhere to sleep that night. Her name was Mathilda and she had just arrived from Sierra Leone that day. She had to travel to the Home Office in Liverpool to make her asylum claim but by the time she got there it was closed until the next morning.

We soon realised that there were a lot of people in Mathilda’s situation, and we ended up buying a big house so that we could offer overnight hospitality to newly arrived asylum-seekers. For a while we used to have two or three people a week coming to stay. Moya was just a toddler then, but very sociable and talkative, and she enjoyed always having new people around. She would wake up in the morning and ask ‘Who’s coming to our house today Daddy?’ This was a very life-giving time for us, an incredible opportunity to meet people at such a vulnerable time and to show them some friendship and hospitality. Having young children in the house also really helped people to feel safe and to relax, even when they sometimes didn’t speak any English and arrived looking very anxious indeed.

By the time Jonathan was a year old we were finding it increasingly difficult with two children to sustain the energy needed for late-night guests. We decided we needed to find more support, which is why we moved to Sheffield to be near Kate’s family. But we didn’t want to miss out on the valuable experience for us as a family of friendship with asylum-seekers. In Sheffield we have joined the Northern Refugee Centre’s befriending scheme, which matched us up with a single mum with two daughters from Syria, and we meet up with them about once a week for dinner or trips out. It is a way of keeping in personal contact with the reality of life for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and it means that for the children asylum-seekers will never be just a label or an image on TV, because they know them as friends.