Up until this week I considered myself to a Christian although not one that feels the necessity to polish one’s halo in public. This is what changed:
The local churches have got together to set up a night shelter for the street homeless from November through to February. They appealed for volunteers and invited us along to a training session advertised as being delivered by Shelter. I mentioned the project to Nadine, one of my tenants, who jumped at the chance to extend her existing volunteer work with the homeless and off we went to sit in a cold church hall.
The meeting opened with a prayer and the bloke doing the training kept referring to his audience as “brothers and sisters” and went on for an hour and a half about his work setting up night shelters around the country with “God’s will” (turns out he wasn’t from Shelter at all!). He answered direct questions like “should we say a prayer with them before they go to sleep?” and “what happens when they turn violent?” in the true manner of a politician. By this time, Nadine and I were rolling our eyes and desperately trying not to giggle. She answered the questions, correctly, about how to manage conflict and I just muttered that it may help if he stopped making the homeless sound like aliens waiting to rape and pillage our little town.
The fact of the matter is this: there are only 15/20 truly street homeless in our town (not including sofa surfers or families who the day centres also serve) and Nadine has been helping in two Church day centres for 5 years and knows most visitors by name. She doesn’t look for anything from this life except knowing she’s helping others less fortunate; she doesn’t lust after fast cars, fast men, new clothes or handbags. She’s always on the lookout to rescue unwanted animals and people. Having worked extensively with the mentally ill, she handled babysitting my three children brilliantly and had them wrapped around her finger with her extensive knowledge of Eastenders and ability to get down on the floor to play games. Got the picture? Nadine genuinely cares and carries out her voluntary work in the name of a big heart and compassion for her fellow human being.
I wanted to do the night shift so I could not only get some experience for my project but also to watch those that I’ve had to evict in the past wake up in horror in the middle of the night to see my face!
We filled out our forms and availability and handed them in to the Project Co-ordinator. Nadine explained that, because she doesn’t belong to a congregation at a particular church, she couldn’t fill in that information. Do you know what he said? “In that case, we can’t have you on board. We can only have people who belong to a church”. Despite my protestations and the personal references of people from the Sally Army and her Church volunteer group, he was absolutely adamant that she couldn’t be part of the project.
Nadine was devastated and hurt, I was angry and embarrassed. She’d come up with good questions such as “will you let them in if they have a dog?” and has more experience in her little toe than all those do-gooder Christians who manage to ignore the subject of homelessness for most of the year. I’m guessing it’s an opportunity for them to build their next step towards heaven. So, to the homeless of our town – if you want to be patronised and gawped at, go along to your local church. Be alcohol and drug free, behave yourselves, brush your teeth before bed and don’t forget to thank the kind ladies and gentlemen as you depart in the morning for their hospitality for they will thank God that they never have to experience your way of life.