Thursday, 28 August 2014

Street Walking

Dennis, Alex and I took to the streets yeaterday with our trade-mark trolley of give-aways, and passed the time it takes to walk from the Mission to the Shelter for the Homeless, engaged in earnest conversation. Dennis is a bit disillusioned. I think if there was an OFSTED for Churches, and I'd quite like to start one, (GODSTED?)) he feels his would be in Special Measures. 

I pause for thought. We are very fortunate at GCM (Gloucester City Mission) because when Dennis and I joined, the hard work had been done, Missioners are accepted and respected on the streets, and we have a fun time being nice to people.  In the four years I've been dispensing loving-kindness in the shape of a sausage roll, I have never been insulted, assaulted, or treated in any way other than kindly. I am very grateful to the street-people for being so generous with their time and forbearance. I often wonder what they really think of us! 

Dennis thinks his church is too complacent. He was particularly wound up by the apparent lack of concern for the poor by the bankers in his midst. I am surprised. I had stereotyped Dennis' church as being low-brow evangelical and necessarily short on bankers: goes to show how misleading prejudice can be. 

"Dennis," I say, having come over all preachy, "Why don't you give the banker the same opportunity to open himself to you as you do Bill Jones?" (Bill is the  poster-tramp of the Mission, and proud of it.) Dennis looks at me in awe, and I am overcome with smugness. I am, you may spot this, taking him to Martin Buper's insight that, "All real  living is meeting." You can't know anything about anyone unless you make the effort to share your vulnerability with them.  Or just listen to them. Really. 

"You should be the pastor of a church. "Dennis says, and I stare at him in disbelief: several disqualifications immediately springing to mind. One of the best things about being a Catholic is that I'm NEVER going to be burdened with THAT. 

However, I did get to do some pastoring. The aforementioned Bill Jones was waiting for is in the porch outside the shelter. 

Bill greets me with enthusiasm. He doesn't so much flirt with me, as insist that we get married. "Over my husband's dead body,  Bill," I laugh, and he does too. It's our ritual, so don't get reading anything into it. 

"I'm barred," he says by way of explaining why he's outside the shelter, not  in it. He usually is. He's also usually drunk, which is more often than not, why he's barred. Bill is not a quiet drunk. 

He's been ejected from his room in a hostel for, allegedly, killing one of the other residents. I ask him about this, and he says, evasively, "You don't want to know." He's wrong, I DO want to know, but I'm not about to press him. 

"Where are you living now Bill?" 

"Here," he replies, pointing to the ground beneath his feet. Hey-ho Bill. Have a sausage roll. 

He then engages me with a brilliant stare and begins to gabble. Well, this is new. So I reply in tongues, make the sign of the cross on his head and say a blessing.

"I liked it when you did that. Do it again!" So I do. 

At this point. his social worker arrives essaying yet another attempt to get him to see sense on the housing issue. I hear him tell her he wants to go to Scotland. I get the feeling that she wants him to go to Scotland too, and really, I wouldn't blame her. 

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