Yesterday, a homeless man offered to make me some toast.
I was visiting 57 West, a church plant in Southend, which connects with people who are or who have been homeless. I had turned up for their drop in session and was enjoying getting to know people when I was offered the toast.
What really struck me is that 57 West is a community, rather than a place where ‘do gooder’ Christians patronize people by trying to do everything for them.
I was welcomed by those who had nothing and I was offered the little that they had.
I came away challenged by my experience. I am more determined than ever to continue to relate to people as human beings rather than as clients or projects. I feel more inspired to continue to share in life with people rather than trying to inflict the good that I condescendingly think that they need on them.
After my visit to 57 West, I went to find out more about Church from Scratch, another Baptist church plant in Southend. One of their projects is a charity shop called Shared Space and I had a great time meeting some of the volunteers there. What was clear to me is that these people are a community rather than just people who happen to be running a project together.
Their website says
‘Shared Space works with and for all the people of Southend to make life better. We’re particularly keen to work with those under 25 years and those who have had a less fortunate life’.
All of the young adult helpers who I spoke with were grateful for the opportunity which they had been given. Some of them had been sent as a placement by other organisations such as the job centre, but their attitude had been transformed as they engaged in the life of Shared Space.
I was really touched when one of the volunteers said that Shared Space meant so much to her because,
‘It’s given me a chance to show that I can do something’.
I love the way that 57 West and Church from Scratch are willing to share life with people who live on the margins of society. Both churches treat people as human beings rather than as clients to be helped and I was glad that I had taken the time to find out more about what God is up to in, through and with them.
As I have reflected on my visit, I remembered that Jesus said,
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15.15)
What would happen if we realized that church is primarily about friendship, not meetings?
What would happen if we realized that church is primarily about people, not projects?
What would happen if we realized that church is primarily about community, not being an organisation?
What would happen if we realized that the people who we encounter outside of church are people who we can work with and relate to rather than just clients to be helped
Jesus and his disciples lived out their experience of church life by sharing life together rather than by having lots of services or meetings. So, do we really want to be like Jesus?