Two Sundays ago, on a cold and dump November Sunday evening, when most people relax before the beginning of the week, I took a bus to Highgate, and more especially to the United Reformed Church chapel there, where a charity named C4WS that operates throughout northern London leads a homeless soup kitchen and shelter. This was not my first experience working with the homeless, as I have been a volunteer for over a year with a joint Anglican-Roman Catholic soup kitchen operating in Rome.
I don’t hide the fact that after a week of work I was tired given the challenge I was going to face, but then I realised, I may be tired, but if I am tired, I can rest in my cosy bedroom, how about these poor folks? Their only hope is an unsure place at night, comfortable, but not granted and surely an experience haunted by the ghost of unknown certainties and unsure expectations. My Catholic upbringing has always been rooted in a faith that exists to serve, to serve the meek and humble, even Mary in her song of the Magnificat envisions the poor and lowly as those who will be first be exalted by God, charity is at the heart of our Christian faith, as we witness in the whole of Jesus’ ministry, later the Church continued that mission, from its early days to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when it was the only institution building hospitals and hospices for the less advantaged, throughout the present day. A Church Father, Saint John Chrysostom says: if you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you won’t find him in the chalice.
So what is it that C4WS does? I arrived at the shelter and started setting up the beds for the night, then at about 7, the guests started to arrive. This was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life: we spent the evening playing cards, chess and other board games as a family, and their smiles and warmth were certainly not those of people who have lost everything. Even more family-like was sharing dinner with them and finally me and a female volunteer remained for the night, sleeping with them. There are four main shifts: setting up, recreation time, dinner, bedtime, breakfast. Volunteers can stay for all of them or just one. It was all very natural and as some may believe, not at all “dangerous.” it is certainly worth giving it a try as they need more and more volunteers. C4WS is also not a “static” organisation, but it actually serves the purpose of finding housing, and work for the homeless within 30 days – it is a way for people to escape the street. It could be any of us, something as simple as losing a job in a big city like London could lead us to that state quickly. We could be one of them, and certainly they deserve our time and charity.
You will indeed find Christ in their smiles, and he will stay with you as a beautiful experience that will stay in your hearts. I am there almost every week, and many people from St Benet’s volunteer to help C4WS in this way. If you’re interested in serving Christ in this dynamic way, please let em know and join me!