I went to an AGM on Thursday night. It was a real sacrifice let me tell you, as I am trying to give meetings up as a reward to myself for leading a good life.
It was the annual reckoning to its supporters of Gloucester City Mission and it was the usual mix of reports and chocolate biscuits. There are now 20 rough sleepers in Gloucester, and many many, more people living in poverty helped by GCM , which means, a little, helped by people like me. 'Grannies for God' I call us, because most of us are: not because we're especially holy, but because we're free during the day to go out on the streets.
On the same point, and by way of conclusion, I found a piece I wrote two years ago for a friend describing a visit to The Day Centre for the homeless before it closed last January:
I talked to Abs, an Indian guy in his twenties, a drinker, sent by his parents to India for six years, where he was abused. And more and more… But what impressed me about him was his gentleness, his politeness, and the way he was seeking a way out. Maureen, who is a baptist and a bit more overt than me, took over, and Abs seemed to be earnestly engaged. Funny, I just realised that he has the the name I use for Abigail…
Then there was Dave – indeterminate age, be-stubbled (undesigner), missing teeth, happy, well under the influence… He's just out of prison, has got back with his partner, hence the happy.
'Do you want to see my tattoo?'
Well, what girl could refuse?
He'd seen the text on the wall of the prison chapel, it was, 'God alone is my judge' and it was tattooed down his left calf. ('Now THAT'S irony, Dave,' I didn't say.)
I tried to think of what I would have tattooed, and where, and drew a blank on both counts.
I tell you I came away with a great deal of admiration for prison workers. 'Janice' had really looked after him I could tell, keeping him company, getting him a radio, encouraging him and – not judging him.
Dave wants to be baptised. So, I called over Dennis, who is great with men under the influence, having been one himself once, and he talked about the implications…
There's a great little church in the Docks nearby, the old 'Mariner's' church that had served the sailors and bargees when the docks was more than a Mall on water. The vicar is enthusiastic, and the church is alive to the needs of men like Dave.
Which ALL churches will need to become when the Night Shelter closes and the Vaughn Centre loses its funding next year. We have to get good at doing the real stuff. As I often say to people of faith, the Christ won't judge us on doctrine, theology, or the magnificence of our buildings (not in a GOOD way anyway) but on what we did for the widows, orphans and drunks.
What a witness it would be if the church, in all it's manifestations, spent as much time and energy on the latter as the former! By any criteria, I would say we have failed miserably in what should have been our prime purpose. It's no wonder thinking people don't want to know.
There! It's out! I am bordering on disillusionment. And yet, and yet, I'm not ready to jack it all in. I really don't know why!
The AGM was a reminder that whilst some things get worse, others get better. The street friends mentioned above have moved on, as many do, hopefully to better things, and GCM is now in a position to rent a permanent home. We will share premises with the Homeless Healthcare Team. Christians Against Poverty, and the Food Bank. A Poverty 'One-Stop Shop' which I wish to God we didn't need. At least there will be food and shelter for people who need it this Christmas.