The Gospel Initiative – Where the Rubber Hits the Road

A chance to witness to the vision

Giles Fraser

by Giles Fraser Posted: 18 Jan 2013 @ 12:15 from theChurch Times

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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 “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.” – Giles Fraser

This C.T. article by Canon Giles Fraser, now P.i.C. of St. Mary’s Church, Islington, might seem to be centred on secular facilitation of resources for survival – but is that not what the Christian enterprise is really all about? The Church Militant ‘here on earth’ is surely meant to be an instrument of healing and reconciliation of  – for instance – the continuing difference between those who have, and those who have not in our society?  This is nothing more nor less than the Gospel.

Having recently seen the musical drama ‘Les Miserables’, I was led to reflect on what the Church might be doing in the secular sphere that might more perhaps more credibly become a basis for preaching the Good News of God as ‘Enabler and Giver of Life’ – to people on the margins, whether through their own fault or the fault of the society in which we live. (“Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only!”

Canon Giles, who was at the coal-face of criticism as the Canon Chancellor of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, when he was engaged in a stand-off on hosting the protesters against the banks’ scandal; is here highlighting other ways in which the Church might become pro-active in the business of ‘feeding the poor and housing the homeless’ – in situations where Jesus might be seen as having no place to lay his head and no food in his stomach.

Practical charity is often the hardest activity for Christians – who may not personally see themselves as ‘The Church, The Body of Christ’ in the same way as the followers of Jesus did in the gospels. Oh yes, we might put our hands in our pockets or write out the odd cheque for charity, but it takes real commitment and dedication to offer our services on the spot to deal with the homeless and the down and out of society – especially in ways that may involve costly personal presencing – ‘Being With’ the Poor and the Hungry.

I am proud of the fact that, here in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Anglican City Mission plays host to a mammoth Christmas Dinner, which invites all and sundry to partake in a wonderful Feast of good food and drink – as a festive reminder of the generosity of the God who provides our needs. The Mission also provides accommodation to wayfarers on a daily basis – which is the heart of the project, requiring many woman/man hours per week to maintain the ‘Open House’ atmosphere of the Mission. Thank God for all such ventures, which are clearly a most practical way of serving God – through and to God’s people.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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