In or out?
The church of St Giles in the fields now lies in the shadow of Centre Point, just off Tottenham Court Road but when Queen Matilda founded it in the 12th century it was well outside the city walls because this was a church for leprosy sufferers. Contracting leprosy meant you were “out”, such was the stigma and fear that people had to be separate. So this historical background made it an appropriate setting for the annual carol service of The Leprosy Mission (TLMEW).
As well as carols and Christmas music, we were able to hear more of the work of TLMEW, particularly their work in India. Many people think that leprosy is a disease which belongs in the history books but it is, in fact, very active in many parts of the world. In India alone, thousands are people are still diagnosed with leprosy every year. Sadly this leads to people being “out” of society since the fear of leprosy is so deep seated that people are ostracised and Indian law reinforces this. Shockingly, there are several active statutes in Indian law which discriminate against leprosy sufferers, such as the laws which state that leprosy sufferers are not allowed to use public transport or have basic human rights. This extends to family members who may be healthy but suffer the same discrimination and prejudice. The Mission has promoted a scheme to give such people a voice; you can visit their website to read more: www.leprosymission.org
We were also given an update on the proposed work on the Out Patients Department at Purulia Hospital. This is the project to which we gave financial support during our Harvest celebration and I am glad to report that the ground breaking ceremony took place in November. With the ground prepared building work can begin in earnest. So the oldest leprosy hospital in India is looking forward to a brighter future when patients can be treated in greater privacy and comfort.
Society may stigmatise and push people out but everyone is “in” the circle of God’s love.