Sepas is a Persian (Iranian, Afghani, Kurdish and Turkish), congregation worshiping at Liverpool Cathedral.
In 2013 a cathedral-run Alpha course had more Persian than British people attending. In response to this surprising turnout the cathedral then ran a Persian version of Alpha which led to the creation of Sepas in 2014, a congregation of 60 new Persian disciples. This congregation, of whom the majority are asylum seekers has now baptised over 330 new Christians and confirmed more than 200 since it began.
Mohamad Eghtedarian, the curate at Liverpool Cathedral who currently leads the Sepas congregation, converted to Christianity while applying for asylum in the UK. He understands first-hand the struggle experienced by those in his congregation and identifies the main challenge facing asylum seekers to be a spiritual one. Arriving in an alien environment, with no resources and little or no knowledge of English, the experience of a refugee can be degrading and dehumanising; challenging your identity, purpose and value. But this difficult reality is also one that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can speak powerfully into, offering hope for a future life and a family to belong to that is unbound by culture, language or the past.
But this difficult reality is also one that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can speak powerfully into, offering hope for a future life and a family to belong to that is unbound by culture, language or the past.
The Sepas congregation, which means ‘thanksgiving’ in Farsi, meets every Sunday at 1 pm in the Lady Chapel. The worship and teaching is either all in Farsi or translated. All the material created and used by Sepas, from worship songs, creeds, baptism services and baptism courses are now available online at paconline as an encouragement and resource for those involved in ministry to Persians within the Anglican community. As well as the Sunday service, Sepas currently has two home groups and offers baptism and confirmation courses. During the week volunteers from different congregations across Liverpool also host English lessons for asylum seekers using the Bible.
This growing congregation and ministry also brings with it a number of unique challenges, from the transient nature of the community, the need for more resources and volunteers, and the question of honesty. Mohammad acknowledges that the factors leading Persians to convert are often complex and multi-layered and the church has a difficult road to navigate. “We have a mission to give them the message of Christ – a message of peace, salvation and freedom. The only person who knows what’s in people’s hearts is God. It is not for me to judge”. At Liverpool Cathedral, there is an established process. People are registered when they first come to church in case evidence of attendance is needed for an asylum application. That may be followed by five sessions of a Baptism course and 12 sessions of a Confirmation course. “This way we get to know them and see how they are involved in the life of the church.”
The transient nature of this community also poses challenges to the discipleship and training of new leaders. At the moment there are ten potential new leaders within the Sepas congregation and about five attending other churches within our Diocese, helping and resourcing them as they establish their own Persian congregations. But living within the uncertainty of the asylum application process means that for many their time in Liverpool is a short-term situation. This challenge facing Mohammad and those who work with him is to prioritise the time they have with those they meet, a reality that has no doubt helped focus the mission and purpose of this ministry to one of generous hospitality but also, more importantly a sense of urgency to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
It is exciting to see how Christians within our Diocese and beyond are following where the Spirit leads and seeking ways to serve and share the message of Jesus Christ with those who are moving into their communities and seeking asylum.
Stories of Persians converting to Christianity whilst seeking asylum are not unique to Liverpool, something significant is happening within the new Persian community in the UK and throughout Europe. It is exciting to see how Christians within our Diocese and beyond are following where the Spirit leads and seeking ways to serve and share the message of Jesus Christ with those who are moving into their communities and seeking asylum. The church has a calling to be the voice for the voiceless, to welcome strangers that others won’t and now it is facing a unique opportunity to live out this command on its doorstep. Sepas is already doing this and is a great example of what can happen when churches and their congregations simply say ‘welcome’.