On Friday night, my wife slept outside in the cold. And I am proud.

Am I proud to be a heartless husband who is happy to allow his belovèd to be subjected to the onset of winter? No. I am proud, because she did it as one of sixty or so people participating in a sponsored sleep out for Chelmsford CHESS, a Christian organisation that supports homeless people in our town. Among them were what we used to call Sixth Formers from two local secondary schools.

I have calculated that after the addition of Gift Aid where claimed, she will have raised £684.53 towards the amazing work that Chelmsford CHESS undertakes. They began when the churches of the town used to open their halls on a rota basis as places where the homeless could sleep. Then they bought a property and made it a night shelter. They now also have a day centre which offers job skills and recreation, and another residential property for people they are helping to move on back into ‘normal’ life.

I am proud, too, that I have two of their trustees in my churches. One is the Managing Trustee. He has had a passion to serve the homeless since he took early retirement from the world of banking. The other has only recently become involved when he retired early from business. He plans to run an Alpha Course among the clients. That, to say the least, will be interesting.

Obviously, a sponsored sleep out is meant to simulate – but only to a limited extent – the plight of the homeless. It took place in a churchyard. The night had begun with musical entertainment. There were security patrols. Participants could go into the church and make a coffee if they wanted one. They had access to toilets. At 6:30 am, the sleep out was formally broken by the arrival of bacon sandwiches. None of which is to pretend it was easy – Debbie only slept for about twenty minutes all night – but it is to remember that those who are on the streets have it even tougher.

I’ve never been very good in dealing with homeless people. I’m not streetwise enough to find wise ways of serving them. I have oscillated between naïveté and insensitivity in my responses. But I am glad we can find simple ways of supporting organisations like Chelmsford CHESS.

It’s rather like the attitude my grandmother took to world mission. Inspired by the example of her friend Gladys Aylward, she longed to serve the church in overseas mission. However, health reasons prevented her. Unlike Aylward, who was also initially turned down, she was unable to find another way of going abroad. So my grandmother became a lifelong fundraiser for world mission causes. When it’s not possible to go in the cause of mission, Christians can pray and give.

The other side is that it’s easy for us to default to giving and prayer as a way of not doing mission, however much finances and intercession are needed as key jigsaw pieces in the picture of mission. Sometimes they are what we do as a cop-out, because we’d rather not find vulnerable ways of sharing the Gospel ourselves in word and deed. I have known too many churches where the understanding of mission is limited to fund-raising. A Home Missions or World Church Sunday has meant a visiting speaker and a collection. The congregation has then thought it has shared in mission. Church authorities have colluded in this deceit: just pay us, we are the experts.

But I do know that in Debbie’s case it was different. She had been so moved by hearing a speaker from Chelmsford CHESS at a church midweek meeting that she had to find something she could do as a Christian about this terrible social need – one that will surely only worsen, the longer current financial strictures continue.

So, yes, I am proud of my wife.


  1. Well done, Debbie! You have given us much food for thought here and, after reading about Dave Warnock’s early-morning trip from Northamptonshire to London with a group to prepare breakfast for 200 homeless men in Whitechapel when we are only half-an-hour on the train from Londodn and do nothing, I am much humbled and very proud of my Methodist friends elsewhere.


  2. Thanks for your kind words, Olive. What do the churches do for the needy in your neck of the woods? I’m sure there’s something without even thinking of catching a train to London.


  3. Thanks for sharing that story with us and ‘Well done!’ to Debbie. You have every reason to be proud of her. I too find it difficult to deal one-on-one with most homeless people that I encounter – definitely room for improvement there. And ‘well done’ to all the trustees of CRESS.


  4. Thanks, Pam, you’re very kind. CHESS deservedly gets significant funding from the county council and other bodies, but they are not afraid to criticise public policy, where it fails the homeless. They are a credit to the Gospel.


  5. You are right to remind me of the work on my own doorstep! We do, periodically, have similar ecumenical sponsored sleep-outs in Reading to help the homeless, though I’ve not known anyone personally who has taken part.
    Then there is CIRDIC (Churches in Reading Drop-In Centre) which offers food, showers, clothing, help with finding accommodation and jobs, a listening ear and access to many professional services. It is entirely dependent on donations, both of money and goods, i.e., food and toiletries. So our church is frequently involved in this way, though I know of no-one working actually with the homeless at the Centre. There has recently been a large increase in the number of meals served – 90 meals on days that the Centre is open. This week our Notice leaflet is asking us to ‘Buy a Quiz’ for £2 because the Centre is desperately in need of two new showers.

    However, several people from my church are very heavily involved in another ecumenical charity called Christian Community Action, which has grown very rapidly over the years and now has several shops cum support centres in strategic areas across the town as well as a central warehouse for the storage of donated furniture, etc. These Centres collect and distribute clothes, food, furnishings and bedding to those in need. CCA is so well established now that they regularly have young people on placement, either those in the ‘Time for God’ scheme or from the Reading Young Offenders Institute (HMP). CCA also supports CIRCIC (that I’ve already mentioned) plus other similar charities, namely, the Churches in Reading Women’s Centre, Door of Hope, FAITH (Feed All In Thy Hand), First Steps, Mustard Tree Foundation, Frontline, Lifeline, and the Yeldhall Manor Drug Rehabilitation Centre). So we ARE doing quite a lot here – in many different ways. Thank you for making me evaluate it all!


  6. Yes, I’m amazed at what the Christians in Reading are doing. We should sit down and evaluate the positive more often, instead of thinking that we aren’t very effective. Thanks again! I forgot to say that CCA began with the vision of one man and now CCA has 4 Charity Shops and 5 Advice Centres!


  7. Sure, why not? Much better than the kind of discussion that ensued over on Connexions when Richard posted the Evangelical Alliance’s good news! Just on the basis of this excchange here and the change of attitude that it has effected in me, it would do us all good to hunt out the Good News stories for people to hear instead of all the talk of decline.


  8. I think some discussion of decline has to happen, otherwise all we get is propaganda or ostriches getting too acquainted with the sand. But more sharing of good practice and good news would be welcome. Some of the official Methodist emails like The Buzz are quite good at that – provided you can categorise what you’re doing within the standard ‘Our Calling’ headings.


  9. I re-thinked this too. The churches here don’t have work with the homeless. However, my Circuit supports a locally-run charity in Kenya and the Superintendent came back from there last week; at our circuit service tonight, we saw photos of a new well that had been built for a community, a new house built for a family of five (mum and four small children) and an appeal for an orphaned teenaged girl who showed up at the charity’s doorstep after walking 20K because she’d heard that the charity might help her find funds to finish her high school education.

    And now I’m thinking, ‘Well, what about our Churches together setting up a small venture for hungry people as a beginning?’

    Thinking about this sort of good news doesn’t make me feel complacent at all; it makes me feel ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’


  10. Pam,

    That’s great. This stuff is more doable than many people think, isn’t it?

    We have a similar experience here, also, to the one you mention about Kenya. There is a charity around here called Hand In Hand, set up several years ago by a local Christian. A few years ago, one of our circuit’s Local Preachers went to work for them. Clive has done a great work in getting people from the circuit out there on short-term mission. A party went from his church, then one from the circuit, including people many years past retirement.

    This last summer, an eighteen-year-old in my Broomfield congregation went in between A-Levels and university. I remember saying to Katie’s parents, her faith will grow far more quickly in a mission environment like that than in months and years of static church activities. It is so exciting to see people throw themselves into these mission experiences.


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