A mile for migrants at Dorchester Abbey

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I don’t expect any of us will forget those pictures of Aylan lying like a doll on the beach and then in the arms of a soldier. One dead child focused the pain and compassion of the world. The question we all asked then was “what can I do?” That question hasn’t gone away and I pray it will remain as long as necessary.

The Revd Canon Sue Booys

The Revd Canon Sue Booys

That week Denise Line, our mission co-ordinator came to me. “Not sure what you’ll think, this idea may be a bit old hat!” She was proposing a mile of pennies around the Abbey to raise money to support Migrants and the idea grew! We would lay the first coins immediately after Harvest Festival. We would begin in the chancel. Steph Forman (organiser of the Dorchester Festival) was persuaded to offer help and expertise and the event quickly became the Mile for Migrants. We had just a couple of weeks from idea to event which might seem just a bit risky! However we gossiped this bit of news everywhere we could and it soon became clear that it had caught people’s imagination. It allowed anyone to participate – pennies are not big things and (as we were to discover) many people had been keeping coppers for years.

Local schools, press and radio publicised the event. Members of the Fellowship of St Birinus (people who make outstanding contributions to Church) attending a service a week earlier gave over £500. A woman from Blackbird Leys saw the Oxford Mail article and phoned to offer her lifelong copper collection.

So perhaps we should not have been surprised when at half past eleven on Sunday people began to arrive; a gentleman with a sack trolley and two boxes of coins, one child who had emptied her piggy bank and another who had made his Mum drive from Hermitage. Josh and Ella Forman and Adrian Brooks made the Save the Children logo of pennies to start the mile and Jasmine Whitbread (CEO of SCF International) who lives in Dorchester came to take a look. In less than half an hour a triple line of pennies stretched along the nave to the back of the Abbey. By 6pm and masses of visitors, stories and cups of tea later we had made a mile and a quarter of pennies and a massive £1,068.42p.
Watching over us were the figures in our stained glass windows – pregnant Mary on a donkey with Joseph, migrants with nowhere to stay, refugees, forced to flee in the face of King Herod’s violence. Moses led slaves away from Egypt in that great migration Exodus.

Migration is not new, neither is the persecution and hardship that causes people to leave their homes in search of safety and security. Maybe we sense that this could happen to us and our families and perhaps that is why so many joined in with our Mile for Migrants. A big thank you to them all!

In the Abbey we shall be holding a Vigil for Migrants on Sunday 1 November 6.30pm – 9pm
Our Advent Carol service on 29 November at 6pm will follow a pattern of prayer and readings to help us pray together for refugees. Further details are on www.dorchester-abbey.org
The Revd Canon Sue Booys is the Rector of Dorchester Abbey.

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