Creating a place of hospitality and community for the homeless

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter, supported by Church Urban Fund, provides emergency accommodation, food and support to homeless guests over the coldest months of winter

The Facebook page tells some of the story. An entry records the joy of knowing that one of the guests has found accommodation – “Last night, one of the guests leaned over and whispered “I’m in” – He has a place in a hostel and won’t have to go back to the streets.” Another post asks for prayers for a man, Tomas, who has been turned away as the shelter is full. In another, a guest who was a champion table tennis player in his own home country is pictured playing a table tennis coach who volunteers for work at the shelter.

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter, hosted by 14 churches in the city, opened its doors in January and is due to close at the start of next month having provided 12 bed spaces over this period to a largely stable group of guests many of whom have ‘no recourse to public funds’. While the shelter is open to anyone who is considered ‘low risk’, many are European migrants who came to Britain for work, often seasonal, and found themselves destitute. Homelessness has dramatically worsened in Birmingham with the rough sleeper count rising from nine people in 2010 to 55 last autumn. Many campaigners have said they believed the official rough sleeper figures released annually are an underestimate.

The shelter works closely with professional organisations and takes referrals from a local charity that supports people experiencing homelessness. Some of the guests have been sleeping rough for several years. Guests and volunteers all sit down and eat together each night and there are activities such as pool, chess and table tennis. Guests are given help to meet longer term needs through support with finding housing and work and by linking them with other services. One guest for example, will be accompanied by volunteers this week in a journey to London to help him to start the process of replacing a lost passport. The shelter is supported by around 400 volunteers with six Anglican churches acting as hosts out of its 14 church venues. A further group of churches and charities provides transport for guests.

Sarah Turner, Development Worker for Thrive Together Birmingham, the Church Urban Fund joint venture with Birmingham Diocese, which supports the shelter, said: “I am always blown away by the response to the shelter – some of the churches end up with far more volunteers than they need. We have one venue that has a really lovely relationship with the local primary school where the school makes cakes and food for the guests. I think it is the most ecumenical project I work on. We hold a service at the end of the year which is a thanksgiving for everything that everybody has done and to pray for the guests and all those experiencing homelessness. We ask the different churches to look after different parts of the service. It is always a beautiful event.”

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter is a collaboration of individuals, churches and charities including Housing Justice

Martha Linden, Archbishops’ Council senior media officer

‘God has really touched our hearts for these members of our community’

An extra £2 billion was announced by the Government this week to help tackle the social care crisis. We talked to three parishes in Salisbury and Bristol Dioceses where congregations are stepping in to meet the needs of the elderly, struggling families and people discharged from hospital with cleaning, gardening and decorating work.

At St Peter’s Church in Lawrence Weston, North West Bristol, ‘St Peter’s clean team’, cleans people’s homes and carries out tasks such as litter picking and decorating. The group was founded by Emma Murray and her husband Rev Dr Andy Murray, priest-in-charge of St Peter’s and St Andrew’s Avonmouth, as a response to the needs they had seen running the Bristol North West Food Bank, which carries out home deliveries to up to six households a month in the area.

Rev Murray said:  “We had been running the food bank for a number of years when we realised that we were not reaching a certain part of the community – Emma had done some work with the local GP surgery and health visitors who said ‘we are seeing people coming out of hospital who are permanently housebound’ – was there anything that we could do for them? Doing home deliveries for the food bank as a result of this request really opened our eyes to the sort of situations that some people are living in, in terms of not being able to care for themselves or keep on top of cleaning their homes. God has really touched our hearts for these members of our local community and He spoke clearly to Emma about starting the clean team.  The project is still in its infancy, and the amount we can do is limited by the number of people able to help.  However in spite of the small size of our team, we’ve had the opportunity to bless a wide range of people in our community, cleaning the homes of some elderly residents, and even a bit of painting and decorating.  We’ve also helped a couple of people recovering from serious injuries, cleaning their homes, and even doing their washing.  Some residents have needed several visits over a month or so, whereas for others, one visit is enough.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive, people know we are Christians and they want to know why we do this. This has given us an opportunity to talk about our faith, about God’s love for them and his desire to see us serve others and show Jesus’ love in practical ways.”

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At St Mary’s Church in Marlborough  a team of congregation members provide practical help for people in the town including painting and redecorating, gardening, birthday cakes for children and making meals for struggling families. The group also provided 25 Christmas stockings for children last Christmas. Families in need are identified by a parents’ support adviser working with a local primary and secondary school. The group, set up around three years ago, is now looking to extend the work to reaching more elderly people in the town. Rev Janneke Blokland, team curate at St Mary’s, said: “Marlborough looks like a prosperous area but there are pockets of deprivation which are well hidden – around a quarter of housing in Marlborough is social housing which you wouldn’t expect and the shops in the high street are just too expensive for some people. We don’t proselytise, we don’t expect people who receive these services to come to church afterwards. By doing this work we show that somebody cares, that God cares.   It takes huge courage to allow these groups of people into your house but people have been very appreciative. We had one single mother who had received a meal who accidentally sent us a text meant for her mother saying ‘there’s been some lovely church people who have dropped off a meal’. It has done so much good for the members of the congregation too who have taken part. Not everyone necessarily wants to lead home groups in the church but many people are very happy to garden or do painting. We have two people in the congregation who are very good at making curtains, and a few people who love baking. Three years now into the project we are really starting to build relationships with people in the community.”

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Jenny Jones, a member of St James’ Church in Devizes, helped set up ‘the Noise’ in the town, modelled on a similar scheme in Bristol where volunteers work in the community. A group of 105 volunteers from the church cleared eight gardens last year in the town working in partnership with a housing association. They also ‘deep clean’ the local Alzheimer’s Support Day Centre twice a year and have worked on projects such as creating a wildlife area in a local primary school.  ‘Our help is freely offered and non judgmental, we simply lift what has become an unbearable burden completely away from people who may have had difficulties maintaining their garden – either because a family member has fallen ill or had an accident or has simply left.  We all wear blue T shirts which say on the back simply ‘The Noise: showing God’s love in practical ways’. Going out in a group helps people to feel more confident. Some of our congregation volunteer regularly in charity shops and they don’t necessarily get the chance to say that their motivation is loving your neighbour. This has been a way of meeting people that we definitely wouldn’t normally have met. Some have been invited as a result of the work to come to the Christmas lunch at the church. We see this as sowing small seeds – we don’t know where it will go, but it is changing attitudes to the church in the community.”

Martha Linden, Senior Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council

International Women’s Day 2017

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, talks about her actions to #BeBoldForChange, helping mark International Women’s Day 2017 on March 8.

Bishop Rachel has been developing a partnership with The Nelson Trust, a charity that runs an award winning Women’s Centre in Gloucester, recently visited by the Duchess of Cambridge. It works with the most disadvantaged women in our communities, offering both practical and emotional support.

The three bedroomed house will provide a safe home for women who have had traumatic life experience, including being victims of violent crime, domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental health difficulties and potential contact with the criminal justice system, including being in prison. It is estimated that over a year up to 12 women and their children will benefit from this home.

// Read more about the project here: http://www.gloucester.anglican.org/2017/bishop-rachel-supports-vulnerable-women/
// Read more about International Women’s Day here: https://www.internationalwomensday.com
// Share the video and your actions to help create a more inclusive, gender equal world using #BeBoldForChange and #IWD2017.

Inspiring stories of faith from Newcastle and Northumberland

Stories of faith from a farmhouse in Northumberland to inner city Newcastle: Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle, shares inspiring stories from her diocese.
More information about the diocese is here: www.newcastle.anglican.org/
Read about how the Church of England is committed to equipping people tiving out their faith every day here: www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/…al-synod.aspx

Bishop of Newcastle shares her faith story

Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle, tells her personal story that lead to her becoming a bishop.
More information about the Diocese of Newcastle is here: www.newcastle.anglican.org/
Read how the Church is encouraging 24/7 discipleship here: www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/…al-synod.aspx

From flash mobs to pig races – taking the gospel to all in our communities

Rev Canon Sophie Jelley writes about how more than 450 events are to take place between Thursday and Sunday in Durham Diocese as part of the Talking Jesus programme

Picture by Keith Blundy

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a new season begins – a time to reflect on the way life has been, and to look ahead to a new and different future.

On the second day of Lent we begin Talking Jesus Durham, a very special weekend of mission with Archbishop John Sentamu and 25 bishops from the Northern Province joining us with their teams.

After a launch service in Durham Cathedral taking in the history of Christianity in our region with inspiration from St Cuthbert and St Bede and all the northern saints we will go out to ‘Talk Jesus’ in every Deanery across Durham. From the Tyne to the Tees and the Dales to the Sea, more than 450 events will be happening in every community led by people from churches right across the region, helping us to ‘Bless our communities in Jesus’ name for the transformation of us all’.

There will be ceilidhs and comedy evenings, flash mobs in shopping centres, pub nights and pig races – there is no end to the creativity and fun. There is a sporty event at the County Cricket ground in Chester-le Street on Thursday evening, lots of visits to schools and colleges on Friday, youth and children’s’ events and family fun days in lots of places on Saturday. Park runs will be blessed by Bishops and there are music events to suit people of every taste.

The bible tells stories of Jesus at parties, Jesus at picnics and Jesus with every type of person in all kinds of places. The same is true today – as we put on events large and small, as we meet with people of all ages in all kinds of places across the Diocese of Durham, Jesus is with us. We want to tell people about him. Who He is and what He has done and the different He can make in our lives. Jesus is the Son of God who loves us, so we have a message of hope and new life; offering a new and different future for all people.

97% of people never go near a church. Talking Jesus is about taking church to them. To go with Jesus, to those He leads us to, to Talk Jesus and help the people that we know and care about to meet the One who cares so much for us. For those who want to know more after any of the events there are over thirty ‘Start! Courses’ being run all over the Diocese following on from Talking Jesus.

The final celebration takes place at Durham Cathedral at 3pm on Sunday afternoon. Archbishop Sentamu will be speaking. Music will be led by the oldest and newest churches in our Diocese:  Durham Cathedral Choir & the worship band from St George’s, Gateshead. Why not come and see for yourself.

Revd Canon Sophie Jelley is Diocese of Durham Director of Mission, Discipleship & Ministry and Canon Missioner at Durham Cathedral

Equipping children for the world in which they live

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, the Church of England’s Lead Bishop on Education, sets out why he supports incorporating age-appropriate sex and relationship education into the national curriculum

Every parent wants the best for their children and every teacher wants their pupils to be safe as they negotiate life in an ever-changing world.  Even before the birth of the internet; the explosion of social media through mobile phones and the ever more pervasive reach of advertising, concerns about what some call the sexualisation of childhood were widespread.

It is only natural, given much that we see in the world around us, to want to shield children as long as we possibly can.

That is why many, including many Christians, are concerned about what children might be taught in schools. There are those who fear that proposals to incorporate a form of age-appropriate sex and relationship education into the national curriculum could expose children to too much too young.

“We cannot simply advocate an approach like the three monkeys coverings their eyes, ears and mouths, vowing to see, hear or speak no evil.”

But it is becoming increasingly clear that what might have held in previous eras is no longer the most effective way of keeping our children safe and preparing them for life in the world in which they live.

In an age when even primary school children are becoming exposed to online pornography – often by accident – and when practices such as “sexting” are becoming commonplace at a younger and younger age, we cannot simply advocate an approach like the three monkeys coverings their eyes, ears and mouths, vowing to see, hear or speak no evil.

The NSPCC’s ChildLine service has reported a sharp rise in contacts from children about online bullying over the last few years. In a seemingly ever more image-conscious and body obsessed society, even children now feel compelled to doctor photographs of themselves. At the same time, concerns have been raised that young children are growing up unable to spot the difference between airbrushed photographs of celebrities and the real thing.

That is why I believe there is a need for carefully targeted and age-appropriate relationship education for children from primary school.

This is not, as some might claim, about teaching young children the mechanics of sex – or indeed anything at all about sex at that age. But if we want children to build resilience it is important to start young, teaching them about strong and healthy relationships.

“If we want children to build resilience it is important to start young, teaching them about strong and healthy relationships.”

Some, including some Christians, will argue that school is not the right place to teach such matters. We are clear that any such legislative change should come with suitable safeguards to ensure that parents are consulted and retain the right to withdraw their children and that the education is be framed in a way which is appropriate to the ethos and character of the school.

But the Church of England is, collectively, the biggest single source of education in the country, with around a million children learning in its schools. We know from everyday experience of the pressing need to equip children for the world in which they are growing up.

The Rt Revd Stephen Conway
Bishop of Ely