Their presence has grown increasingly customary at this 1930s-era, peach-colored church in the past half year. In fact, as the population of asylum seekers has grown in this town of 3,000, so too has a new curiosity about Christianity.
Reverend Dan Sarkar, the local vicar here, says it started last summer when a Syrian man turned up at their doors. “He said, ‘I don’t want to be a Muslim anymore. Can you tell me about what it’s like to be a Christian?,’” Rev. Sarkar recalls. “Then an Iranian turned up asking about it, too, and since then there has been a steady stream of new people.” Sarkar decided to launch a weekly baptism class for the newcomers, to which he later added a weekly Christian education class. Most attend both.
As many fear an influx of Islam into Europe, Christianity is also getting an unexpected – if anecdotal – boost. “The humanitarian and charitable efforts on behalf of refugees have given new meaning to both Catholic and Protestant churches in Europe,” says Andrew Chesnut, an expert on global Christianity at Virginia Commonwealth University.