No abiding city
The past few weeks, since Christmas and the New Year celebrations, have been remarkable for me in that I have re-made contact with some friends who were very close some thirty years ago, but with whom I had lost contact-seemingly irreveocably. Then, out of the blue, my daughter went to her local church to try and get my grandson baptised: the Vicar turned out to be someone who had been a good friend many years ago from my college days: I had inherited the chair of the college ‘Third World First’ society from him, and we had got up to some hairy scrapes in and around London to highlight the plight of the poor and deprived of the world: notably one hair-raising (I now realise) stunt in which we ‘arrested’ a black student in the foyer of South Africa House under the guise of South African policemen enforcing apartheid rules. I can’t remember any media splash for our daring scheme to show the obscenities of Apartheid, but I do remember a rather scary car drive through London being chased by the police!
Then, there was the ‘phone call out of the blue from a friend who worked with me when I was a parish priest in Salford: he had travelled via the seminary in Lesotho and Ireland to become, latterly, the Anglican priest to the Navajo peoples of America. He was letting me know he was returning to England. This priest’s successor as my colleague in Salford, has just moved to a parish in my part of the Diocese with his wife, who is also a priest. The two of them were good friends until our various ministry paths took us in different directions, but here we are now working together once more.
And, finally, yesterday, the office ‘phone rang and it was a girl friend of mine, again from college days. We used to live in a ‘commune’ of 8 or 9 people in Finsbury Park in the heady, post-hippy period of the early 1970s. The last time I saw her was when I was a curate and she came to visit us with her new born baby. That weekend saw a christening in our church of the time, and she asked whether I would also baptise her child. I did, and this will ‘o the wisp of a girl went on her way in life never to be heard of again, until yesterday, when she ‘phoned to see if she could get a copy of the baptism certificate for her soon to be married son (now 30!). After a carefree and unfettered young life, she is now married to a doctor and has three children. It all made me think of that time when I myself was young and looking forward in eager anticipation to what life, love and priesthood had in store and trying to imagine what might happen to us all. Now, I am able to know the life stories of just a few friends and how the great adventure of existence has turned out for them. To a man and woman, they are happy, content and fulfilled.
I tell you all this, because this week has seen me making contact with the local YMCA in Lincoln and also, their neighbour, the NOMAD Trust (www.nomadtrust.org.uk). Both organisations deal with the increasing problem of homelessness, primarily amongst the young, and both approach the problem from a Christian, faith standpoint. Our own U2charist cafe-BeAttitude-is attracting increasing numbers of young homeless from the streets of Lincoln, so we wanted to find partners to do something about it. For information, here are some statistics:
In 2001 there were 1,115 homeless households in Lincolnshire. On any given night there are around 500 people sleeping rough in England and some 3,000 over the period of a year. 88% of rough sleepers are male. ‘Homelessness’ includes households which have lost their home for some reason; those who are sleeping rough and those who are being accomodated by friends, family or others.
The friends I have re-discovered this year are all people who were able to have hopes and aspirations and to plot their path through life. Throughout their time on this Earth, they have been supported and loved by family, friends and colleagues and they, in their turn, are now reciprocating that love and respect to others. Thirty years ago, when I first got to know them, I was surprised to find (as a rookie from Sheffield) that the streets of London did indeed have the homeless people that Ralph McTell sang about-surprised because the problem just did not seem to exist in my home city. Now, homelessness not only exists, but increases in every major city and outside them, and it is a major contributor to lives being destroyed and blighted by hopelessness and despair. It is a spiral of life decay that anyone can fall into, and its jaws are not easy to escape and homeless people are vulnerable and socially excluded. And, in a time when local Authority housing is being demolished and reduced, there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing for those without homes. If you want to know how it can happen to a successful, wealthy and intelligent person follow: http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/a82594/documentary-to-follow-homeless-newsreader.html
We are disciples of someone who said that he had ‘nowhere to lay his head’, surely we must care, as he did, for those today who, similarly, have no holes or nests in which to feel safe and loved?