The Archbishop of Canterbury praised Brighton’s values of diversity, welcome and hospitality during his official visit to the Diocese of Chichester which has its “head office” in Hove.
Archbishop Justin Welby met dozens of refugees from a number of countries at All Saints Hove after a business breakfast with church and community leaders at St Peter’s in Brighton.
All Saints hosted the Network of International Women for Brighton and Hove which numbers more than 300 women from 56 countries who speak 44 languages.
Some of them were busy yesterday (Saturday 5 March) serving food and drink from the One Bread Café in the church, in The Drive, Hove.
The café is part of the One Bread Project and is open to the public inside the church from 8.30am to 2.30pm Monday to Thursday.
As they gave lunch to the archbishop, he spoke about his childhood visits to Brighton, saying: “I used to come here a lot when I was a child – when I was nine or ten – so well over 50 years ago.
“The change is monumental – and better. What is so impressive is the diversity – the life. There’s a really impressive diversity, impressive hospitality and a real welcome.
“Listening to people as well, there are huge struggles here. There are still people who are treated badly because they look foreign.
“There are challenges but the values of hospitality, welcome and diversity are lived out in the community.”
The archbishop, now 66, went to school in Seaford from 1964 to 1968 and came to Brighton several times over those four years.
He said: “I’m really struck by the contrast driving down the seafront, which looks similar, but you go back a few streets and how really different it is.
“There are obvious bits of real poverty with people sleeping rough.”
While he accepted that other places had poverty and rough sleepers, he said: “It’s rather more visible here.”
House prices are astronomical, he added, highlighting the onus on the church, among others, to play its part in trying to deal with the problem.
He cited a Church of England report called Coming Home which was published last year and which urged the church to use its own land and property holdings as part of the solution.
The church is also investing in trying to revive its reach through Strategic Development Funding (SDF), with a £2.5 million grant awarded to the Diocese of Chichester last year.
The money is strengthening the teams at St Peter’s and All Saints and enabling them to support other local churches. Father Ryan Green has the task of leading that work at All Saints.
The archbishop said: “This is a conscious effort to use some of the wealth of the Church of England to increase our engagement with communities.
“This place and the likes of Father Ryan … the money enables them to employ people and help the church become a resource church for the community and other churches.
“You only have to look around to see what a resource this is. This morning has been absolutely staggering. These Victorian pillars can’t have seen anything like this before.
“This is SDF doing its stuff. It’s all about reaching out to the poorest and most excluded in society and helping them and doing it on the ground at local level.”
It marks a remarkable transformation for St Peter’s which was threatened with redundancy less than 20 years ago before the current incumbent Archie Coates and his team arrived in November 2009.
There was a campaign to save the church which, some feared, might even be demolished.
The congregation had dwindled to about 20 worshippers but the team running Brighton’s “cathedral” now welcomes something like 2,000 people a week through its doors, the archbishop said.
He added: “It’s not going to close now!”
As he looked at the buzz of people thronging All Saints, he said: “The building has to be the servant of the church – here it’s the poor and the refugees – rather than a small group of people serving the building to stop it falling down.”
Both St Peter’s and All Saints have nonetheless spent significant sums of money in recent years on the fabric of their buildings and are making much more use of them.
The archbishop touched on the war in Ukraine and the likelihood of more refugees arriving in Britain, saying: “More needs to be done. Places like Ireland, which is not a huge country, have gone for visa-free entry. Yes, there are security issues but we can manage those.
“We can’t make huge supportive statements unless we let people in. There are one million now outside of Ukraine.”
Britain, he said, was the sixth-richest country in the world. And he added: “These are people who are highly educated, highly motivated, deeply traumatised and totally not at fault – from a European culture with a deep Christian faith.”
Asked for advice for those who were worried by events in Ukraine, he said: “Look fairly and squarely at the situation. If you’re a person who prays, then pray. If you’re not a person who prays, then pray!
“I would say definitely put your concerns and anxieties in the hands of God. Recognise that we don’t have control over it.
“But look at what you can do – and then do it! That will make you feel better. What you don’t want to do is sit there like a rabbit in the headlights. It’s easy to do. A lot of us can feel like that.
“Just because you can’t do everything, it doesn’t mean you should do nothing at all.”