Winter Memories - Page 1
Reading in the November magazine about the John Kuhrt’s article on how to respond to begging and on the Forest Churches Emergency Night Shelter, brought back memories for me. A former St. John’s Vicar Rev. Richard Field said that at the monthly Chapter meeting of the local priests, they had discussed setting up a Deanery Night Shelter as other local Deanery’s had already done so. Dick’s question was could we do it at St. John’s ? We talked about it, prayed about it and talked it over with the P.C.C and the church. We became one of the founding churches of Waltham Forest Night Shelters.
We had very little facilities and less money –no change there—and some church members were against it while most were apprehensive as how we could do it. In one way we were fortunate as one of our new church members had recently been homeless and was getting back from that situation, Malcolm Brockman, and he was wholeheartedly in favour to help and was prepared to do the overnight sessions. Malcolm and I were responsible for the evenings, while Dick and his wife Joyce did the mornings. The most dangerous part was putting up the camp beds as they seemed to be spring loaded, even the Archdeacon, who helped from time to time, got scars from them. We gave a welcome, warmth and safety, a hot meal and breakfast and as the churches got more experience we had a social worker. Yes! There were sometimes problems and sometimes we had threats but most of the time we got a great big ‘thank you’.
Looking back, a number of things stand out. We were never short of help and all turned up each winters night or morning, they were generous with their time and care. We were never short of things we needed like money or food, it was always provided and almost all the guests appreciated what we were trying to do but we also learnt a lot from them. Most said, to most people they were invisible, so just sitting down and talking and listening to them made them feel, human. I think that today more and more people think that no one listens to them, so they are not important, not worth really listening to. They felt safe in our churches and halls but perhaps the most remarkable point was how easy it was to become homeless, we realised ‘but for the grace of God go I’, so many of the stories are similar.
Winter Memories - Page 2
My final thought is a guilty one. I was also worried when we started but what I did, not that much, I received back threefold. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed being with other people trying to help but I also enjoyed being with all our visitors (well most!) and I did not see it as ‘good works’ but more of a night out for me and a night in for them. We also sent everyone –if they wanted—at Christmas, to what was then called Crisis at Christmas, later called Crisis. Most ‘homeless charities’ need help and volunteers. If you have thought but not tried it, perhaps because you feel apprehensive, give it a go, you will laugh more than you cry. David is our current Chair of FOREST CHURCHES EMERGENCY NIGHT SHELTER so talk to him and find out more.
We did Night Shelter for a number of years and even during the ‘vacancy’ after Dick retired, we continued with Rev Corinne Brixton. I never knew why or understood why we stopped but I learnt that how you deal with those begging or homeless, is to treat them as people, some be wary of but for most be generous, they are not invisible. Think what it would be like if you were in that situation, how would you like people to treat you. Oh! did Jesus say what you did if you had more than one coat. Over the years I’ve realised that when you try to do one of God’s requests, all that is needed is received but you get a lot more back than you give, so be generous even in your prayers.