As the cost-of-living crisis bites, its often those most vulnerable – like those at risk of homelessness – who pay the price. Once a month, Globe Church, based in Southwark host a meal for guests at LCM’s Webber Street Day Centre for people experiencing homelessness.
It’s more than an opportunity to do a “good deed”. For many volunteers, it is a way to share the love of Jesus with others.
Rachel, a volunteer from The Globe Church, describes one of the guests sleeping rough she had gotten to know.
“He was telling me that one day he joined a new team, and I thought he was talking about football or rugby…he said, ‘no, I've joined ‘Team Heart’!’ …‘What do you mean you've joined ‘Team Heart?’ And he said, ‘I've chosen Jesus. I've chosen his heart and I'm chasing that.’ That's a pretty special thing to hear. That really stuck.”
Sharing the love of Jesus
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to share the love of Jesus. Sitting next to someone and listening to their story can be enough.
A young man who had just started coming to Webber Street needed some additional support. He received it at the meal one evening put on by Globe Church. A volunteer sat down with him and just listened to his story for the entire evening.
“I can't remember the last time that somebody just sat and listened to me,” said the young man.
A typical Globe church meal is peaceful. They put on some jazz music, dim the lights and make it warm and welcoming – a place where people can feel safe and know that for the few hours they’re here, they are off the streets and safe.
Volunteers lead the whole evening. They organise everything from the serving rotas to the meal preparation. They’ve even created their own recipes with special dishes they know the guests will enjoy.
On a typical evening they’ll see up to 25 guests. They sit across various tables, each with a church volunteer who can help them feel welcome.
They start with a short word from the Bible before the generous meal is served.
As one Globe church volunteer, Sam, explains, “There’s a very clear overlap between our faith and what we do here. We’re faced with the reality of a creation that's broken... But to be able to love people like Jesus did, talk to people in a way that Jesus would've done …is a fantastic way to live out that calling to love your neighbour. It's at the heart of why we're here.”
Many people who experience homelessness also talk about feeling invisible. One of the talks at the meal spoke into this hurt. It was about how God knew each one of us by name and how his care for us was deep and personal.
“In London you are going to come across people asking you for help, asking you for money in the streets and it's really hard to know how to react to that,” says Sam.
“The time here with the guests is just an incredible opportunity to see what life is really like. It’s just eye-opening hearing about different cultures, different life experiences, and hearing what they go through…. You genuinely bond as an equal.”
Some weeks genuinely brings me to tears
It’s an incredible blessing for the missionaries who work at Webber Street to know that there are people out there who care just as much and just as deeply as they do for those who are experiencing homelessness.
“Some weeks it genuinely brings me to tears because it’s our heart to create an environment where local churches can get involved with what we’re doing – to build relationships and see the guests hear the good news of Jesus, encountering his life-changing message,” says Jennifer Garribay.
“Not only do we want people to be saved, we’d love them to be discipled and become part of a local church family. The meals put on by the Globe Church are like a bridge to this.”
For Rachel, “It challenges you to appreciate how real the gospel is – the gospel gets involved in the messiness of life. We see guests come along to Sunday services or to other events and it because there's a friendship there already.”
There was a gentleman called Bob who started going along to the meals and then started attending Globe Church. When Bob died he didn't pass away anonymously like so many others living on the streets. Bob had people who cared for him, loved him and supported him right to the very end.
“For many of us in churches around the country, the reality is that unless our job involves directly working with those who are homeless, it will be difficult to interact with people we see on the street day to day,” says Jennifer.
“We don’t get those opportunities to build relationships or invite them to church. But when you’re able to spend time building relationships within a safe environment, an invitation to church will naturally come about.”
Many see the homelessness as an issue of financial poverty. But dig even deeper, and you’ll find it is a poverty of identity and belonging.
Volunteering at Webber Street has been eye-opening for Rachel.
“It's changed my thinking towards those on the margins, from being quite practical wanting to give them food or money, which might not necessarily help, to wanting to be more intentional with getting to know them and just talking to them. If you see someone on the street - a ‘Hello! What's your name? How are you?’ goes so far.”
For Jonty Allcock, Pastor at Globe church, reaching people who are homeless was something that has been on the hearts of many in the congregation.
“Most of the people coming to Globe Church are young professionals in their twenties…But it was very moving to see the group who wanted to reach the homeless community was massive…I realised there was a real burden and enthusiasm there,” Jonty explains.
“But churches often have enthusiasm, but very little experience. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing… But we thought, hang on, London City Mission do know what they’re doing. And there is this fantastic centre at Webber Street who are doing great work. Why don’t we ask them [if they needed any help]?
“What London City Mission is brilliant at doing is helping pastors and churches… to do things more competently and to give people the opportunity to do things better.”
Joining a family
While ending homelessness is important, Webber Street missionaries are also passionate about seeing men and women who are currently experiencing homelessness become thriving, integral members of a church. When people who know and believe the gospel become integrated into a community and develop a sense of belonging and identity – that’s where the real transformation happens.
“Please pray for more churches who would like to be involved in this ministry, like the Globe Church. Because the more churches are willing to be involved, the more people who are experiencing homelessness can find a home church to belong to,” says Jennifer.
“Please also continue to pray that God will continue to open the hearts of our guests. That He would soften their hearts to him.”
This article was first published in our free quarterly magazine, Changing London. For stories like this and much more subscribe to our next edition here!