This week someone asked me if we in Diaconia saw ourselves as providing sanctuary. It is an interesting idea and one that has a huge history of Biblical tradition with churches seen as places of sanctuary, where people could flee to and be protected there. Indeed we often think of sanctuary as being for those escaping persecution, for those being pursued by forces intent on their destruction. I look at Syria and Iraq right now and see many many people in need of sanctuary, in need of a place of safety and I hope that those places are found quickly from both Christian and secular communities in the Middle East and Europe. But I wonder if we need to re-think our understanding of sanctuary in Europe. The traditional idea of providing a place of sanctuary is still needed. Just this week the continuing fact of violence against women was highlighted by our members and by the European Commission and many of our members provide places of sanctuary to women and their families escaping such abhorrent violence – not necessarily in actual churches but in refuges, hostels and protected homes – essential work in the fight for gender equality and rights.

However, not every need for sanctuary is physical. The experience of being persecuted may not cause us to flee physically but there is still a need to find sanctuary. Across Europe we see more and more damage done by conditionalizing social polices combined with sanctions and penalties, with the reduction of social rights due to economic policies and by an increasing acceptance of rhetoric that maligns and abuses groups in our societies. Dealing with over indebtedness, insecure housing, caring for a loved one with dementia, mental health challenges among many many other situations can leave us in need of sanctuary, of that safe space, of that support, of that feeling that there are others supporting and empathising with us. So perhaps today sanctuary is not just about a physical place but also about attitude. Do we provide sanctuary to people experience poverty, to people with Alzheimer’s, to children struggling with mainstream schooling, to those looking for work. Are our social protection systems places of sanctuary for those needing social protection? As ever I cannot claim to be able to answer this, but I do think it is an interesting idea, that Diaconia can be a place of social sanctuary  for those who need such support and protection. Taking that even further, what would it mean to place that attitude of sanctuary at the heart of our social protection systems – would there be a difference?  It is an open question, but as we continue to look at issues such as the European Pillar of Social Rights, of the European Semester, of individual policies for children, refugees and people experiencing poverty I am going to be thinking about sanctuary as a place and an attitude and what that could mean.

Have a good weekend,