'Every volunteer and every guest is a child of God'
Baptist church member Clive Morton on the ever expanding Winter Night Shelter Programme in Peterborough - and the language we need
I have heard that expression ‘Availability and Vulnerability’, originally coined by the Northumbria Community, often used to describe the recommended approach of chaplains in the places that they find themselves, to the people that they meet.
Sometimes, chaplains describe their work as 'loitering with intent' and clearly chaplains will have an open attitude wanting to be receptive of 'where people are', to understand their situation and 'speak the same language'.
All of this makes great common sense, but it begs the question - why should this appear unusual or ‘out of the ordinary’?
It strikes me that it is not the chaplains and their approaches that are ‘out of the ordinary’. Much of our faith and religious observance revolves around age old familiar language and often outdated interpretations, with not so much as a genuflection towards the world we live in!
In Peterborough this month we start on the ever extending Winter Night Shelter Programme, which now has 13 churches contributing as hosts together with more than 300 volunteers over a continuous period of five months. I believe we volunteers are ‘chaplains’ to our ‘guests’, and we need a rapid revision to our approach, vocabulary and choice of language despite the surroundings being ecclesiastical!
We have to remember that many of our ‘guests’ will probably not have been inside church buildings before, and may have no knowledge of what ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ mean in our practice.
Homelessness and rough sleeping has become a major problem in our cities and Peterborough is no exception. It was seen two years ago that there was no ‘daytime provision’ for such folk and, then, little prospect of anything coming available.
However, today there is good news. The Garden House, situated within the Cathedral precincts, is just that daytime provision that was needed. It has just completed its first year of operation run by the Light Project with a host of volunteers and donors who make the daytime ‘guests’ feel at home with a whole range of assistance. It is a partnership supported by the council where housing officers can meet the homeless ‘in the kitchen’ over a cup of tea, rather than in a formal bureaucratic office. The results of ‘getting alongside’ vulnerable people in this way have been astounding - showing that the environment and the openness releases potential that could not have been believed before.
What unites both the Night Shelter and the Garden House, is that every volunteer and every guest is a child of God and equally loved by God, and all are spiritual beings.
Clive Morton is a member of Park Road Baptist Church in Peterborough, and a trustee, Cambridgeshire Workplace Chaplaincy
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