There but for the grace of God go I​​​​​​​

There but for the grace of God go I

I met a couple of quietly inspirational people the other day. Well, I say ‘I met’ but what I really mean is that a group of about twenty of us from the churches in Barwick, Scholes and Thorner met them. Some people charge lots of money to give an ‘inspirational’ speech. A quick look round the internet shows that the typical motivational speaker in the UK charges between £2,000 and £20,000 for a 60-minute talk. Yet these two people came for nothing. More than that they did the work they came to talk about for nothing. And it was challenging and demanding work, often involving a night’s missed sleep. And they were a retired couple who could have been looking for an easy life, lunches out, cruises, that sort of thing.

What was it they did? They ran a night shelter for homeless asylum seekers for a week a year in Garforth Methodist Church. This year, because of the need, they are running their shelter for two consecutive weeks. They have a lot of help of course, up to 70 volunteer sessions in a week, but they provide the inspiration. Without them, and their large team, ten men would be sleeping rough on the streets of Leeds instead of in a warm and safe Church Hall. There are around 5,000 recorded rough sleepers in England at the moment, plus those who are not recorded. So, looking after 10 is only taking care of 0.2%. Is it really worth it?

Well, of course the care rate is 100% for each individual involved. I first became involved with the homeless as a student working the night shift at St George’s Crypt when I would often have the sole care of up to 100 men sleeping on either benches or the floor. I then moved to a different sort of bench, as a magistrate sitting in Leeds. Finally, I spent five years in Armley Jail, but that’s another story. In all these adventures I have met individuals whose story could be summed up as ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.

A teacher whose hospitalisation for a long period resulted in loss of home and job. An ex-service man whose service trauma meant an unequal fight to re-integrate with civilian life. A young man whose close proximity to his friend’s fists caused just sufficient brain damage to prevent him functioning properly, but not enough to make him eligible for any mental health support. The asylum seeker I met who had fled certain death in one country and who was locked up because no country would agree that he was theirs. All of these are people are, in a sense, ‘ours’. We share a common humanity with them. Jesus spoke of them as ‘my brothers and my sisters’.

The two inspirational speakers we met did inspire those of us who heard them. We, that is St Philip’s church in partnership with the other churches, decided to open up our church hall to provide shelter for destitute asylum seekers just as Garforth Methodist Church does. It will be challenging. We will need a huge amount of help, support and understanding. I am sure more will appear in the magazine over the coming months. I am certain that offering care for homeless men far away from their country of birth, friends and families, will be inspirational. As one of those professional inspirational speakers said “Great things never come from comfort zones”

Alan Stanley