March 2016

Dear Friends,

I’m writing this in the middle of February. We have already hosted two nights at the Church as part of the ToWNS (Torbay Winter Night Shelter) project, with two to go.

I am so pleased that the Church said “yes” to being part of this, and that so many have participated in different ways: by contributing bedding and toiletries; by volunteering to cover evenings, nights and breakfast sessions; by cooking delicious meals (someone had 3 portions of crumble and hoped for more!); by praying.

It has been wonderful to see people’s gifts being used in so many ways too: those who have the gift of cooking; those who can make tea or wash up; those who have the knack of being a calm listening ear – all have had their opportunity to play a part in ensuring that Furrough Cross hall was as warm and welcoming as it could be.

The nights have not gone without their challenges. The first night we had a guest who was very upfront about likes and dislikes and brooked no hint of being what was sensed to be patronising or intrusive conversation. (whether it was or not!). Both nights we are pretty sure that we witnessed the effects of legal highs – which were more like legal sedatives as people became comatose and difficult to talk to. There is also nothing quite like an orchestra of snorers keeping you awake at 3 in the morning.

I discovered that one of my gifts related to all of this, is moaning. I brought LOTS of bedding week 1 (2 duvets, a mat, a very comfy pillow and a sleeping bag). I downsized by one duvet in week 2 as I had reflected that if I were a rough sleeper, I wouldn’t have so much. But also couldn’t quite bring myself to reduce my bedding any further…. It turned out I was lovely and warm in my little cocoon. But still I moaned.
I moaned about how hard the floor was; I moaned how difficult it was to stay asleep when there was lots of noise and movement; I moaned about being woken up when I had finally drifted into deep sleep half an hour before.
I mostly moaned to myself. But I moaned.
I felt hard done by.
And then I went home to a warm house and a loving family and a comfy bed.
And I thought about these new people I have met with complicated lives and addictions and mental health issues which meant that they would be back on a church hall floor the next evening and in March, back to sleeping rough again.
And I felt ashamed of myself.
It’s been a good lesson. I’m certainly counting my blessings even more than I did before.

And I’ve learned others too:

  • Don’t expect people to be grateful when you are doing something for them. If you are in it for the reward then that may not happen. Show grace filled love because that is what you are called to do, not because people will thank you for it.
  • Don’t expect people to share their life stories with you just because you offer food and shelter – they may choose to but their lives and stories are their own.
  • Do see everyone as a beloved child of God – because they are! 
  • Do be prepared to feel unprepared for all the experiences that you will have.
  • Do know that there is a lot of love and laughter involved (as well as delicious crumble)
  • Do delight in the way that Churches are working together – our team was made up of people from Furrough Cross, the Quakers, St Mary Magdalene’s. We also had support from Leonard Stocks and the foot team. It is wonderful to see so many different groups coming together to help the vulnerable.

I’d like to think that we will not be needed next year. I expect we will. I do hope that we will say yes again. I’m sure all of us who have been involved have gained so much from being part of it. And perhaps all are moaning a little less about our daily lives!
Thank you for saying yes this year. Thank you for all who took part – and especially to Graham Dart and Bill Becher who were our Co-ordinators.
It’s been one of those experiences where we know that we responded to God’s call

 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 25:34-40