A night at the night shelter – The Pastors point of view.

According to the BBC Weather Forecast it is likely to be a cold night with a chance of showers, some heavy. Definitely not a good night to be sleeping outside in an alley or shop doorway.

My home is about 200 metres from the front door of the church and as I walk from home to the church the driver of a passing grey van hoots the horn at me and I look up to see Linda the Night Shelter Manager from West London Churches Homeless Concern (WLCHC) pulling up outside the church front door. There are already three potential guests standing outside and I arrive at exactly 5.30 pm.

I can see that the lights are on inside the church and when I ring the bell the front door is opened by Patricia who is a volunteer from amongst our church membership.

The three guests, Linda, Patricia and I swiftly unload the contents of the van into the open church foyer. The foyer and the Fellowship Hall rapidly fill up with sleeping mats, sleeping bags, disposable plates, bowls, cutlery and cups. The makings of a chicken curry are added to piles of tea bags, coffee, hot chocolate, bread, soup and fruit salad.

Mari the chief cook and power behind the throne kitchen arrives and swiftly, even before we have finished sorting through the contents of the van, the food preparation is underway. They are soon joined by Pastor Solomon, who is employed by WLCHC and will stay the whole night, and from now until about 9.45pm activity in the kitchen will not stop. It’s all go.

The plan tonight is to serve about fifty hot three course meals to the registered guests and those who are on the waiting list. If there is enough food all the volunteers will get fed as well. It’s a monumental task with only about ten volunteers and on a budget of just £72. Oh and did I mention that will include breakfast tomorrow morning. I am reminded of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Soon onions are frying and chicken cubes are being sealed. Mushrooms and various vegetables are being chopped. Excellent appetising aromas start to emanate from the kitchen.

Revd. James who co-ordinates the volunteers on behalf of our church arrives, as does Eric, Patrick, Lameck, Carrie, Sabine, Sylvia and Pedro. The team is assembled. Various people with various talents who are willing to give freely of their time and their energies and to serve and minister to upwards of 36 homeless men and women. (Matthew 25:31-36closeMatthew 25:31-36 The Final Judgment 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (ESV) closeMatthew 25:31-36closeMatthew 25:31-36 The Final Judgment 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (ESV) The Final Judgment 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (ESV) )

Apart from cooking the food the tables and chairs must be set out and at 7pm we start to serve hot drinks to the guests waiting on the steps of the church, tea, coffee and hot chocolate with biscuits to fortify them until the meal is served at 8pm. Bread must be buttered and plated up.

Tonight we have about 20 coats to give away, all donated by the family of a man who is recently deceased. Bless you Bill, you don’t need them now because the weather is never too cold or too hot where you are now. Bless you Barbara and Barbie for thinking of us. I open the bag and there is a scrum amongst the guests to try on the warm treasures. I am moved to go to my house and bring a woollen hat for a lady guest and two pairs of gloves that I don’t need for male guests. I bring a spare fleece that I don’t need and that is whipped away promptly.

Gradually 8pm approaches and at ten minutes to the hour the volunteers assemble for a briefing by Linda. There is lots of news this week. There are six new guests because two former guests got jobs which included accommodation and the other four obtained accommodations through WLCHC.

There are a couple of guests with health concerns but these seem to be under control at the moment.

There are ten Golden Rules for volunteers;

Always Respect the guests.

Never be alone with a guest.

Never give a guest money.

Never promise to meet a guest outside of the Night Shelter.

If the night shelter manager makes a decision all volunteers must support it and if necessary question it afterwards.

At 8pm Linda opens the doors and the guests are allowed in. Everyone is registered and checked off the list. Everyone, including the volunteers, is given a stick on name badge so that there are no barriers. Everyone at the door will get a hot meal and when the meal is over those who are not will sadly have to leave. We, like every other organisations, are governed by Health and Safety Rules and we have been Risk Assessed and 35 persons sleeping overnight in our church is our limit.

Tonight the meal consists of Vegetable Soup with bread and butter, followed by Vegetarian Curry and Chicken Curry, both served with rice. Lastly tinned pears with creamed rice pudding. Hot drinks are on tap until 10pm.

I talk to everyone and welcome them to our church and let them know that I am available to pray with them if they would like to. Two actually take me up on my offer and after the food we sit quietly in my office and talk and pray.

By 9pm the male guests are already moving up to the church to bed down for the night and the volunteers are busy setting the fellowship hall to rights so that the female guests can get their sleep.

Gradually the volume of noise on the ground floor begins to drop and eventually we are all talking in whispers. There is a steady stream of volunteers coming to my office to collect their coats and valuable and say good night. Most will be back next week for more of the same.

At about 10pm I leave the church and our guests in the safe hands of Solomon and ………………

In the morning our guests are woken at 6am and Solomon, Mari and …………….. and a breakfast of toast, porridge, tea and coffee is served before the guests leave at 7am on the dot. They do not need to be outside for the whole day because at 8am one of the two day shelters in our borough will be open.

West London Churches provide us with a cleaner who ensures that our church is back to normal before 8.30am and apart from a slight lingering odour you would never know we ever had a Night Shelter. Here’s to 20 more Wednesday Nights between now and the 2nd April 2015.

With love from Pastor Mark.

 

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