Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Few Days in London

I do love a wee trip to London.  Most people faint when they hear I was born in Wembley when my father was working for the Banner of Truth in 1972.  Despite leaving at the tender age of 1 (I apparently has a cockney gurgle) I do love going back.  Most of my Englishness has vanished except a love for West Ham United and an interest in Oliver Cromwell.
Along with my colleague David McAdam from Caring for Ex Offenders Scotland we were down on Thursday and Friday last week to see round the London City Mission and attend the Prison Ministry Conference at HTB.  A fellow Scot and London City Mission Director, Duncan Cuthhill, very kindly set up some visits for us.
We stayed in the London City Mission Hostel in Tower Bridge Road along with some of the students taking a gap year to work around London in evangelism.  We ate both evenings at a restaurant looking out on to the HMS Belfast which after the Imperial War Museum is probably my favourite destination in London.
Captain Murray at the helm
On Thursday morning we started off our day by visiting the LCM Webber Street Day Centre.  We were taken down to the basement where they serve breakfast to around 80 people per day.  It was great to see a quote from Proverbs 12 v 25 on the blackboard 'weariness in the heart of man maketh it stoop; but a good word maketh it glad.'  It was a good summary of what we witnessed for the next 3 hours.  Watching the staff show love to so many people who the world had forgotten was a real inspiration.


One of the volunteers, David, who has been volunteering for 11 years and Tim Fielder the 'Floor Coordinator'
Around 9am the doors opened and around 80 men and a few women came in.  The centre seeks to offer spiritual and practical help to homeless and vulnerable people in London and amazingly serves around 15000 breakfasts per year! 

All the staff and volunteers were incredibly warm and hospitable and after tea and coffee we listened to a short talk from Matthew 16 'Who do men say that I am?'  Everyone listened with great respect.  Anyone who doesn't want to listen to the talk is allowed in after the talk is finished. 
Before I could lift my eyes from the short prayer about 50 of the guys had sprinted to the kitchen hatch to queue up for a hearty breakfast of beans, fish fingers, toast and croquets!  The two guys I was sitting with were from (where else?) Glasgow.  One of them spoke about being evicted from homeless accommodation for not paying his service charge.  He is currently rough sleeping just of Fleet Street.  It was great to hear that Webber Street were not only feeding him but helping him find alternative accommodation.
After breakfast the guys can hang around and read papers, play chess or chat to staff.  For those who had booked a shower (up to 15 per day) their number was called and they went up to the next floor.  As well as getting a shower those who had booked a shower could choose some new clothes at the clothing store.

As well as clothes and showers, those visiting Webber Street can request to see an NHS Nurse.  There are also agencies that come in offering support with mental health issues and addiction.

The centre is open 5 days per week.  Fridays are for 1 to 1 sessions to try and help people find accommodation or get support for addiction.  On Saturdays a church come in and serve food which is a great example of Christian organisations and churches working together.
Leaving Webber Street we made our way East to Tower Hamlets and the Isle of Dogs.  Travelling on the Docklands Light Railway you see incredible wealth side by side with poverty.  We were travelling to Café Forever run by the London City Mission.  During the week it is a normal café with internet access and lovely food (personally sampled). 
At weekends there is a church that meets led by City Missionary Tom Carpenter (see picture below).  It was great to chat to Tom about the work he is engaged in.  There is a huge Muslim population around the centre with 7-8000 attending the local mosque every weekend.  Like most church planters Tom spoke of the long term nature of the work and that fruit only comes through building trust with individuals and the wider community.

As well as Café Forever, Tom Carpenter and his team have been instrumental in turning a local park (St John's) into a space where the community can gather.  The Café Forever team run a variety of events for young people and families in a place which was know for crime and anti social behaviour.  They also run the little café in the middle of the park during the summer which brings the community together and allows for relationships to be formed between the City Mission team and the local community.

On Friday David I attended the Prison Ministry Conference at Kensington.  I attended this conference last year and found it inspirational and great for meeting people.  The testimony from Shane Taylor was incredible and proves the incredible power of the gospel.  Other speakers included Paul Cowley, Nick Gumbel and Paul Williams (Bishop of Kensington).  It is great to hear the amazing stories from around the country about how churches are mentoring offenders as they come out of prison.  Even better that we now have Caring for Ex Offenders in Scotland!
Our little trip to London ended with a monsoon shower as we came out of HTB.  We were utterly soaked as we ran to Kensington Tube Station only to find it shut due to a police incident!  There was a mad run and taxi journey to get to Kings Cross for the train back to Edinburgh.
What did I learn?  It was great to see in Webber Street that Christian love and professional care services can be combined.  Homelessness is never caused by one issue and the response needs to be comprehensive and person centred.  As well as responding to the crisis of homelessness, Webber Street helps people to take control and move on.  Most of all, the centre provides a safe community and some hope for those who find themselves in the desperate situation of homelessness.
It was great to see the work in Tower Hamlets.  As Keller once said, church planting needs to be low key, relational and long term.  Tom Carpenter and his team live this out on a daily basis.  Transformation doesn't happen overnight and often it takes years before we see any results.  People see through gimmicks.  It is authentic, consistent Christian living combined with patient discipleship in a community that will bear long term fruit.
What always strikes me about so many of the projects I visit is the incredible commitment of so many volunteers.  Without these incredible individuals so many projects just wouldn't run.  It reminds me of that great Thomas Guthrie quotes which we would all do well to remember; 'If the world is ever conquered for our Lord, it is not by ministers, nor by office-bearers, nor by the great, and noble and mighty, but by every member of Christ's body being a working member; doing his work; filling his own sphere; holding his own post; and saying to Jesus, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
Learn more about the London City Mission here.