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How to become a Church of Sanctuary

This blog post has been contributed by Rev Inderjit Bhogal, founder and leading light in the City of Sanctuary and Church of Sanctuary movement,


Church of Sanctuary is a faith-based initiative, a call to prophetic Christian witness. It is an expression of hospitality as a clear challenge to hostility.

The aim is to take steps to build protective hospitality in ways that are mutually enriching. The hope is that churches will become places for all and proud to foster welcome, hospitality and safety to people fleeing violence and persecution. This would be a clear demonstration of Christian discipleship. The Christian tradition of Sanctuary is deep.

  • It is rooted in the Hebrew concept of Cities of Refuge (Numbers 35, Joshua 20)

  • It is related to safeguarding, protection and hospitality.

The idea of Sanctuary is an important ecclesial concept, enshrined in theology. The association of sanctuary and holiness is universally recognised. Where God is honoured holiness is centred on the presence of God (Exodus 25:8). Hospitality is holiness in action, it is a holy act of solidarity.


  • Sanctuary, or hospitality-with-safety, is a long-standing prophetic theme of Scripture

  • It is the most repeated ethical requirement in the Hebrew Scriptures. The foundation is: love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18) and love the stranger as yourself (Leviticus 19:34)

  • This is echoed in Jesus’ teaching about how we treat the neighbour and the outsider (Matthew 25:35-40; Luke 10:29-37).

Sanctuary in churches used to assist those claiming to be innocent of a crime. More recently it has operated to protect immigrants or refugees facing deportation by the state. Now we need Sanctuary Churches who wish to greet new arrivals fleeing from danger to their lives.


Churches take pride in welcoming all. Many churches go beyond welcome and are thoroughly engaged with supporting refugees and people seeking sanctuary.

What value is added by becoming a recognised Church of Sanctuary?

  • It further strengthens and embeds your ethos and culture of welcome, hospitality and safety

  • It connects you to the Church of Sanctuary network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), the wider City of Sanctuary network, and the wider community engaging with refugees and people seeking sanctuary

  • It takes you on a journey to build collaboration, to know you are part of a movement endorsed by a diverse range of people

You become part of a movement to build cultures of welcome and hospitality. You engage in more informed ways with serious issues that matter to you. You connect refugees and people seeking sanctuary to support networks and agencies.

In a Church of Sanctuary all members of the congregation intentionally work together to:

  • Learn about real life stories of refugees and people seeking sanctuary, and engage with others to work from facts not fiction

  • Embed the values and cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety as part of the values of your congregation and community. You will use these to support refugees and people seeking sanctuary, and include them in your activities

  • Share with pride your vision, commitment and achievements, and let others know about the positive contributions of refugees to society and the benefits of welcoming others.

Note that all members engage in this work. It is not left to those who hold office, or to people who particularly hold a passion for this work. Buildings can provide shelter but sanctuary is best provided in human warmth, community and relationships. Individuals and single congregations can provide hospitality, but this is stronger when it is in collaboration with others, and a two-way process of mutuality and solidarity.

Church of Sanctuary is not a campaigning political movement. It is a biblically inspired initiative, it is about being prophetic, challenging hostility with hospitality. This can mean we become political, and this is in keeping with the style of biblical prophets, speaking truth to power with passion and compassion, seeking justice.

Church of Sanctuary is not about opening up buildings for people to live in. It is about building communities of hospitality and sanctuary. Human warmth and welcome are the sanctuary we all hold and bring into relationships.

We remain conscious of the vulnerabilities of further harm to people already hurting when safeguards and precautions are not respected.


Learning and working together to grow cultures of welcome and hospitality is rewarding. This should be your focus, more than the Church of Sanctuary award.

  • Don’t rush the process

  • It will be helpful to discuss things with congregations that have the Church of Sanctuary recognition

  • It is essential to engage the whole congregation with all your discussions, activities and prayers

Sanctuary Sunday, traditionally the Sunday at the end of Refugee Week in June each year, could be used to raise and launch the idea of becoming a Church of Sanctuary. The congregation can make a commitment to spend the following twelve months exploring what it means to be a Church of Sanctuary by:

  • The decision-making body/trustees agreeing to explore becoming a Church of Sanctuary

  • Inviting/appointing 3 or 4 members to form a small steering group to assist the congregation

  • Agreeing together a simple vision and mission statement

Keep a broad, inclusive reach. Ensure people seeking sanctuary and refugees are integral to the discussions and developments as far as possible. Church of Sanctuary is about working together, not what we do for others but what we do together.

  • Explore the biblical basis of the idea of sanctuary. Resources are available for this on the website noted below

  • Learn about the City of Sanctuary movement and pledge your support. Details are available on the City of Sanctuary website

  • Give attention to all that your congregation is already doing to build cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety for all

At the following Sanctuary Sunday, 12 months on, the congregation can be briefed on progress, and make a commitment to further development. Invite refugees to share their stories, listen, learn together.

  • You might decide to apply for Church of Sanctuary recognition. The application form is not a tick box exercise, it remains a learning exercise.

  • At all stages ensure people seeking sanctuary, and refugees are involved, and as far as possible, work in partnership with City of Sanctuary.

  • Your congregation can engage in this work with other congregations in your area and seek to become a Parish/Circuit of Sanctuary. Your congregation can twin with one that supports refugees

The whole process is about learning together. There are suggestions to assist this process in my book Hospitality and Sanctuary for All.

The award has value as a statement by your congregation. It is about your inclusive values of welcome, hospitality and safety for all. It is something to celebrate and to share - your award will be an inspiration and encouragement to others. In the process you will build and strengthen refugee voices and leadership.

The award is not the end of the process. It is an important stage on an ongoing pilgrimage. It’s not about getting a certificate to display, as for example in the eco church initiative. It’s more about learning together and building communities of sanctuary.

Inderjit Bhogal

June 2024

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