Border Kirk welcomes Iranian refugees
Published on 4 September 2023 2 minutes read
The Border Kirk in Carlisle has welcomed almost fifty refugees to its congregation, with more being baptised every other month.
Half of the church's Sunday worshipping community is now made up of asylum seekers, primarily from Iran, who began attending the church the first Sunday after Easter, 2022.
Rev Wes Brandon, the parish minister, said he was approached that Sunday by twelve Iranian men, asking if the church was Christian and if they could attend.
"I said we would love if they worshipped with us and The Border Kirk has never been the same since that moment," he said.
Before each member is baptised, Mr Brandon takes them out to lunch and encourages them to share their life experiences and discuss the nature of baptism, Christ and the Church.
"The life stories they share are widely varied, but primarily about persecution and torture," he said.
"Most of the Iranians at The Border Kirk were Christ-seekers in Iran."
Many of the Iranians in the parish attended house churches in Iran which were shut down by the Iranian secret police, with converting from Islam to Christianity being punishable by death.
All are welcome
Mr Brandon said a number of the Iranians in the congregation have escaped torture, sexual assault, and the death sentence.
He revealed that one asylum seeker was tortured ‘for being caught handing out bibles in a public park'.
To protect their anonymity and the safety of their families in Iran, the church's online video stream is stopped during the baptismal part of the service.
This year, since more asylum seekers have been invited, the church has swelled with new parishioners from across the globe.
The Border Kirk makes a special effort to make sure the refugees are welcomed.
Every Sunday service is translated entirely into Farsi and Iranian members of the congregation are invited to read the scripture lessons for the day after they are read in English.
"I felt if above all else during worship, they would at least hear the Bible read in their native language," Mr Brandon said.
"Two of the Iranians who are professional musicians often provide an anthem during the service, sometimes in Farsi, sometimes in English, sometimes in both."
Outpouring of love
Mr Brandon and other members of the congregation write letters of reference to the Home Office.
As well as this, the congregation has sponsors which support the asylum seekers and who very often become like a family unit.
Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee and ordained in the Presbyterian Church of the USA, Mr Brandon said ministers sometimes "wonder why God calls or sends us to a specific place or community".
"I firmly believe God led me to The Border Kirk and this church community for this particular reason," he stated.
"I have grown as a person, in my ministry, and in my sense of calling from this ongoing encounter.
"More importantly, I am so overwhelmed by the love poured out from my congregation to the asylum seekers."