The stories I want to share – VI


“That’s a bit worrying, thought he would have known that!”

One bible open on the table, one order of service book (open at the Service of Holy Communion), and one observation from a mischievous “guest” – overlooking another absent “guest’s” reading material. The chuckles rippled warmly. 

Did you know that our local churches are funding dinner, bed and breakfast for up to twenty-five “rough sleepers”? Every night.  From the middle of November to the end of March 2016?

Not only that, but new showers and toilets (and an upgraded kitchen) were fitted to one church especially for these “guests” at a cost of £17k – also paid for by the same local churches.

And did you know that a vegetarian food option is provided each night? And did you know that a “small shop” is set-up and laid out each time – free second-hand clothes, coats, shoes and new underwear and new toiletries?  And all of that funded by these same local churches in our small bit of England. Organised in conjunction with the local town council, who admitted it could not fund this activity.

And did you realise that when you are close-up-and-personal to the label of “rough sleeper”, the individuals who make up that “label” become very ordinary, very precious and very unique human beings – just like you and I. And did you know that their stories are the same as mine and yours? Just as we each make different choices in different circumstances – they have too.  Our choices have not (not yet) resulted in us being “rough sleepers”.  Just like theirs didn’t – until they did.

Did you know the churches did that?  I didn’t.

I had been “persuaded” to volunteer for two evenings. I thought it was a weekend thing. A few nights a week maybe. Let them in out of the cold. Help them get through winter without freezing to death. I can put my hand-up for that kind of minimal effort.

Every night.  For four and half months. Every night.  Tables, chairs, coffee and tea.  A rota for a twenty-minute shower in the privacy of their own large bathroom for those twenty minutes. Towels and toiletries provided. Every night.  Food prepared enough for as many might turn up. Places laid. Hosts ready and waiting not sure what the night will bring. Every night. Cooks and bottle washers looking pink and hot beside the cookers. Reception and welcoming faces on the doors. Every night.  A very relaxed, very friendly, very “ordinary” evening (apart from some nights when a bad day, a wrong choice, a painful memory, a bottle too many … and then it is not so ordinary).

And after the meal and a winding-down of conversation – foam mattresses, pillows and sleeping bags from another store-room. Each guest – now washed and smelling better than the volunteers – kitted out in new clothes – the “not very nice clothes” binned and gone.  Each guest picks a bit of floor for the night and lays out their beds. They each begin to get tucked-up for the night, (even plugging in “ear defenders” that are also provided). All very “normal”. All very “us” – all very not “them”.

And then in the morning? A cooked breakfast and a relaxed farewell.

And then the whole thing moves to another church that same evening. Again and again one hundred and thirty-six times over. How many volunteers, how much organisation, how much communication between the different groups, how much does all that cost?

And not one additional “bums on seats” is gained – that Is not why this happens.  I was told why:

The local town council couldn’t – and the churches could.  Simple.

And the most surreal thing for me? I had been taking minutes of our church council meeting back in October 2015 when the item “Night Shelter – showers?” came up on the agenda. And the conversation was of finances. Of cost and income. All recorded, the decision to contribute officially recorded. And the next item is …

I had forgotten that meeting and that agenda item until someone reminded me. And here I was seeing wet floors, clean pink faces and gawjus smelling people. People given their self-respect, their dignity, their individuality, and their humanity.  It seemed a million miles away from that church council meeting last year.

I came away wondering one thing more than any other: how come I never knew?  How come this little bit of England does not know either?  How come this little bit of England still thinks that church is “just for Sundays”?

“That’s a bit worrying, thought he would have known that!”

If you saw this man in your street – would you cross the road? If you saw his uniform of “smelly shuffling old bloke” wearing several layers of tatty old clothes – bowed under the obligatory shopping bags full of worldly possessions – perhaps the worse for wear with drink perhaps – perhaps too loud and too aggressive … could you ever imagine this man in your church?

And would you ever imagine this “rough sleeper” so totally relaxed and smelling so gawjus … cup of tea in hand … talking at length about his former life in Europe … full of fun and friendship … cracking an irreverent joke about someone else’s “reading material” … ?

Me neither.

Not before this one night (out of ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-SIX consecutive nights AND mornings) in church – this real, living, breathing, loving church with – and without – walls.

These are the stories I want to share.

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7 thoughts on “The stories I want to share – VI

  1. These are the stories needing to be shared, personal stories, about the church, and about the man. Stories that involve our hearts, that transform us, that help us desire to love, to do to make this kind of difference in the space around us.

  2. Pingback: This is the bible I want to share | Just me being curious

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