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Columnists >

A chance to witness to the vision

Giles Fraser

by Giles Fraser

Posted: 18 Jan 2013 @ 12:15

As we sat down for coffee after our guests had departed, we all agreed about one thing. It had been so much easier than we had feared. For the past two Saturday nights, we had turned the church into a makeshift night shelter for homeless people. As temperatures outside plummeted, we put up camp beds, and prepared food for 20 guests, who found welcome, warmth, and food, next to the nativity scene of God who was born in a stable.

I took the candles from the altar and put them on the dinner table. It may have been chilli con carne for dinner, but it felt like a eucharist to me. "Carne", of course, is the root of incarnation - the Word made flesh. It is the reason why practical Christianity is not some second-order derivative.

Many churches now run homeless shelters - ours works through the wonderful Robes Project, a Christian initiative that was mentioned by Dr Rowan Williams in his New Year message: "Religion here isn't a social problem or an old-fashioned embarrassment; it's a wellspring of energy, and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated." The project does all the referral business, and provides the bedding, and individual churches get on with the rest.

The interesting thing about this type of religion is that it is as much a gift to the people doing the helping as it is to the guests themselves. It creates a wonderful sense of cama- raderie and pride among the congregation. And it puts all our other church disputes into perspective.

I cannot help but wonder what an astonishing witness it would be if all our churches became involved in something like this. What holds us back? I guess, in part, the worry that individual churches do not have the resources to handle such a project. But I would like to reassure people that it is remarkably straightforward. We are not a wealthy church with a big congregation - although, even in the past two weeks, more people have got involved with the church through this project. You don't have to be St Martin-in-the-Fields to contribute.

Clubbing together with other churches to take on responsibility for one night a week for a limited period makes the whole thing very manageable, and it makes you confident that you can do more.

Furthermore, the need is obviously out there. Homeless numbers are rising again, as houses are repossessed and austerity continues to bite. Wouldn't it be a marvellous witness if the Church gained a reputation for precisely this sort of activity rather than for being anti-gay and anti-women? Projects such as Robes present the Church with an extraordinary opportunity.

Canon Giles Fraser is Priest-in-Charge of St Mary's, Newington.

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