This write up also appears in the December 2015 Newsletter

Commission members, at the moment, mainly come from Leeds. To ensure that we understand better what social justice campaigning and other activity is going on around the diocese we are planning on having meetings across the diocese over the course of the next 12 months.

The first of these was held at the invitation of the Justice & Peace group at St.Stephen’s church in Skipton.

We opened the meeting with a short reflection using just some key sentences from ‘Laudato Si’ which were shown along with some images. We finished off with the Prayer for our Earth- also from ‘Laudato Si’. This has been printed by the Commission onto a Prayer Card and free copies of this are available from the J&P office.

John Battle at Skipton meeting
John Battle Gets Expansive

There were half a dozen members of the Commission there and about 20 people from St.Stephen’s and the surrounding Craven district. John Battle introduced the members of the Commission who were there and asked them to say a little about themselves before he went on to talk about what the Commission had been up to in the last 12 months. He then invited everyone to share who they were and what was happening in and around Skipton and the rest of the Craven district – and their own views about social justice priorities. Those attending included two Methodists who John made especially welcome.

It was not long before the Refugee Crisis came into the discussion. Judy Rogers, who is a member of the Craven Refugee Support Network, talked about what they are doing. Some well-attended meetings have been held at the Quaker meeting house to discuss how people in Craven District might help. People from all denominations and none were keen to get involved. Members can and do join in with activities around donating things for use by refugees and campaigning to try and ensure that they are treated justly both before they arrive and once they get to this country.

The other major need is the provision of suitable housing. It was recognised that there probably will not be a large demand for this in a rural area like Craven District. However, what they do have are the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. With this in mind, the group has decided to provide a residential weekend in the Spring for up to 30 refugee families to provide them with a weekend away. This is being done in conjunction with the City of Sanctuary movement in Bradford. They are in the process of developing a programme for the weekend. It will include different activities on the Saturday and a shared lunch on the Sunday. They are working to get support for the idea of the Mayor of Skipton holding a civic reception for the families on the Saturday.

attendees at Skipton meetingComments were also made about the impact that the refugee crisis (let alone the Paris bombings) is having on Muslims in our local communities. A recent art-based project at Ermysteads Grammar school had surfaced some of the apprehensions felt by the Muslim members of that school community.

Sheila Gregory spoke about the small Justice & Peace group that operates in St.Stephen’s parish. They alternate between tackling international issues and more national and local issues. In advent, for example they are looking at homelessness in their local area and the Franciscan Friars of the renewal are coming to give a talk. During Lent they usually undertake awareness-raising and campaigning work. Often this is linked with CAFOD’s lent appeal.

Maggie McSherry, from Settle, built on both previous sets of comments. She explained how in Settle the Churches Together organisation have an ecumenical Justice and Peace Group. They have worked in this way for the last couple of years and feel it has had some successes. In relation to the Refugee Crisis she mentioned about the SVP organising prayer vigils to take place on or around December 10 (International Human Rights Day).

Following up Judy’s comments, Sheila Gregory thought that there was much for follow up ecumenically. This was echoed by others with one person commenting that the problems for Christians is to get a big enough response to make a difference and –hence -there is an imperative to work ecumenically.

Mark Bentley from the Craven Development Education Centre was also in attendance. He explained some of the work that they had been doing with schools and about the special project that had produced resources for schools about Magna Carta (one of the Magna Carta Barons came from Skipton).

Lucy Irven is the manager at the Food Bank in Skipton. She attended the J& P conference “Food Banks: Charity or Injustice?” that the Commission organised in the early part of 2015. She had taken away the real need to act at a public level through lobbying MP’s and other decision makers. Another attendee remarked that groups often find it difficult to know where to start when it comes to lobbying. There is no easy answer to this and perhaps this is an area where the Commission could help.

Outreach in schools and colleges (and not just catholic ones) was also identified as a gap. The Commission does not have the resources to do much direct work in these contexts. However, it could investigate providing better signposting to existing resources ( such as the Development Education Centres in the area of the diocese and the promotion of the work of the Pax Christi Education worker ) – and looking to work with others to raise awareness about both key issues and Catholic Social teaching.

The Commission thanks everyone who came along and joined in wholeheartedly in the discussions. Special thanks to Lucy Irven for inviting us in the first place and then making the arrangements and providing refreshments. Thanks also to Fr.Andrew Summergill, the parish priest at St.Stephen’s.