I joined the society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1988 after completing the Allen Hall Diploma in Pastoral Ministry. I realised I could no linger be a passive participant in the life of the Church.
The Society has existed worldwide for over 100 years, providing person to person care wherever there is need. One area where there is need in London is in providing for the homeless. Early in 1999 our SVP conference (Group) in East Finchley became involved with the soup kitchen in Muswell Hill. This kitchen provides a 'sit down', two course meal for anyone who needs it, five days a week. It was founded by the Muswell Hill Baptist congregation and in particular, John Grant, a lay preacher. As the Baptist congregation is relatively small, John enlisted the help of other parishes and groups in the area. Each night, the kitchen is staffed by a different group. On Wednesday night, it is the turn of the East Finchley SVP conference with the help of volunteers from the parish. Out list of volunteers was lengthened recently by participants in At Your Word Lord who answered the call of a pulpit appeal for help.Our mission, as SVP members is: 'to see to respond to the call every Christian receivesto bring the love of Christ to those we serve, in the spirit of the Gospel message.' And so every Wednesday finds us preparing, cooking, serving and washing up.
However, this is only half of the job. Our brief is to listen and to talk with those who came for a meal. Sometimes they need advice, or some clothes or just a friendly listening ear. There are many reasons why our friends are homeless or just unable to provide a meal for themselves. Many have a drink or drug addiction problems or mental health disabilities. Some find that they cannot cope with life changing events such as the break up of marriage or leaving the army. Recently, there has been an increase in the numbers of refugees needing a meal and temporary warmth. Many are caught in the 'no address, no benefit, no job trap'. Many have been in care. No one chooses to be homeless. Each has his or her own story, most of them are heart rending. We do not ask questions, we do not judge or pry. One man, in his sixties, told me how he had grown up in an orphanage. With tears in his eyes he told me how he had never understood why his mother had placed him there, and that no one ever answered any of his questions. There is a man who sleeps in a cemetery. He used to be in the S.A.S so he knows how to survive, but surely deserves a better deal?
The work is quite tiring and sometimes the clients can be volatile or cranky but there is much joy to be found in the service of our brothers and sisters.
If you read the Gospel, it is quite clear what Jesus wants us to do. It is all there in Matthew chapter 25......"for I was hungry and you gave me to eat"