The recent Syrian Evening in Bristol was a feast in every sense. Over seventy of us gathered in Cotham Parish Church to sit at table together to share food, stories, music and above all new friendships and deeper understanding.

The evening was organised by the Cotham and Redland Community Sponsorship group, founded last Autumn by Loubaba and I, and aiming to welcome a Syrian refugee family to live in our part of Bristol. The evening, thanks to the generosity of all who came, and especially that of many of the group, raised a significant sum to enable the group to begin to meet the Home Office required target of £9,000. But, much more, the evening connected us as community around a shared table with the lives, culture and experience of Syria and Syrian refugees.

A Feast has many components, but it seems to me that this Syrian evening, encapsulated what goes together to make a meal a feast: certainly a sense of occasion with careful and loving preparation, and an eye to atmosphere and beauty; the gathering of friends and strangers who come to know and celebrate each other around the table; wonderful food, where something of the cooks themselves is poured into the ingredients; storytelling where through the weaving of narratives the strange and unfamiliar is brought near; music, creating atmosphere and ambience where taste and smell are complimented by rich sounds that deepen the mood of all who are gathered. A feast excites all the senses; and enables us to move into a different experience of lives shared and relationships forged and deepened.

Community Sponsorship schemes need to create the necessary practical conditions and capacity to welcome a vulnerable family and support them in the early part of their new lives in a new culture and community. But beyond the practical requirements and preparations a community formed through feasting that is already learning the practice of breaking down barriers and sharing lives is the best preparation of all to become a community of hospitality.
Thank you to all who made this wonderful evening possible; and most especially to Dima Mekdad (Qisetna Co-founder); the Story readers: Hassan Akkad, Tarek Khateeb, Farah Haddad and Rayan Azhari AND to Dijwar Khalil and his wonderful Saz.

David Stephenson