Rev John Bentham
John’s Letter For December / January
Dear Friends, What is Christmas to you?
We’re in the full swing of Christmas – the adverts are all out – Asda, Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, Waitrose all competing for the best Christmas Add to entice you into spending within their stores! … And there are some great adverts this year.
Though One Advert has caught my attention slightly – Tesco’s’ What is Christmas to you – Turkey, Roast potatoes in Goose Fat, even Roast Goose itself, Christmas is about going out – staying in, the kids, Crackers, Cheese, Chocolate, Sprouts! … However You Do Christmas, Everyone’s Welcome at Tesco!
We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t agree to some of those ideals of Christmas. Though to me Christmas is more than that, it goes way beyond Tesco’s message. Christmas to me is about a hope being born – a light, a star, a promise of a future, a hope that never fades – a hope that brings life eternal.
We celebrate a new beginning, a birth 2000 years ago that gave us a reason for being, a reason which brought an understanding to it all!
From that understanding comes guidance & comfort. From that understanding we gain strength, an inner strength & an inner peace. We celebrate a love that shows no boundaries, a love that is unconditional.
From that love we learn to share with others the gifts that have been bestowed upon us. We learn to give to our friends and family, our neighbours and strangers alike.
From giving we receive the greatest gift of all – For however you do Christmas, we learn that all are welcome in the name of Jesus.
That is Christmas to me.
Have a lovely Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Your Friend and Minister
John’s Letter for February/ March
I’d like to share with you all the journey to Bristol which my wife Vonnie and I took to go and review Bristol Hope Community Church as part of one of the applications of ‘Serving the Community Awards 2019’ as part of my responsibilities being Chair of the Church Support Committee for the Congregational Federation Churches.
When we arrived we were greeted with a warm and friendly reception by volunteers for the project Bristol Churches Winter Night Shelter. A programme that is currently in its third year which provides night shelter for 12 weeks throughout the Winter months to the homeless. Bristol Community Church itself opens its doors for one evening a week, in this case every Sunday for 6 weeks when another church will take over for the following 6 weeks – Every night of the week is covered by other churches in the city.
The scheme provides a safe environment for the homeless & vulnerable of whom are not dependant on Alcohol or Drugs. St Mungo’s were the sole referring agency for the project, making sure only vetted individuals were referred to the shelter. Their expertise is vital in supporting the project. Training for the volunteers of such a project was mandatory to guide them on the risks involved and conduct needed to house and welcome the homeless.
As one of the volunteers put’s it “It’s like one piece of the Jigsaw being put into place, for it offers those who are not dependant on Drugs or Alcohol a safe environment over a period of time to feel secure and build relationships with others that are in the same position. You will find that other places of shelter with no vetting system in place that provide care for all the homeless, although also a very vital part of the survival of the homeless community can be a volatile place, one which deters many from seeking shelter there, and thus they will avoid those shelters and take their chances out on the streets.
The homeless who attend the Shelter’s that are vetted over a period of 12 weeks not only find a warm and friendly welcome with a hot meal and a nice warm drink of tea or coffee, a warm meal & hot shower, they get to know other’s and also build relationships with agency workers from St Mungo’s which will hopefully provide a long term solution to their predicaments and eventually get them back off the streets and change their lives around for the better.
A typical night schedule for each Shelter would be:
6.00pm: Volunteers arrive and set up for the night. This often includes a time of prayer and worship.
7.30pm: Doors open and guests are registered.
8.30pm: Everyone enjoys a hot meal and pudding prepared by volunteers.
9.00pm: Guests and volunteers played games and chatted.
11.00pm: Lights out and sleep fopr the guests, with overnight volunteers on duty.
7.00am: Lights on and guests have showers, Toothbrushes and Towels provided.
7.30am: Breakfast is served by the morning team.
8.30am: Guests go on their way, volunteers put away the beds.
In many cases the reasons why individuals become homeless are more to do with misfortune that can happen to anyone of us. For example: One guest a few years ago was a man in his thirties who had been working as a Chef until a change in family circumstances meant that he was left homeless. His zero hours contract meant that he couldn’t find a new home, as these kinds of contracts are often not considered a steady income by landlords or agencies. Once homeless, he was unable to maintain his chef’s equipment and so lost his job. He didn’t qualify for council housing and had no funds to rent privately.
Guest Feedback from Last year: One of the Guest’s explained a bit about what life was like before they stayed at the shelter and what they achieved while they were there.
Question: What was life like before coming to the shelter? Life was really uncertain. I was homeless and would have to sleep in parks if I wasn’t able to get any accommodation.
Question: What was life like trying to find permanent accommodation while you were homeless? Very hard. I was always stressed because I didn’t know what I would be doing that night.
Question: What was it like being a guest at the shelter? It was a really good place to go. The shelter opened earlier than other places and the volunteers were really friendly and talkative. It gave me the chance to relax and get in contact with other organisations.
Question: What happened next? I was able to go to some job interviews and have now got a job where I’m receiving training. I’m now looking to find a place to rent.
The Church is making a huge impact to the local community – Talking to the Pastor Chris Bond he explains that the local people Christian or not, feel the churches role within the community is to provide and serve the poor, lonely, vulnerable and oppressed within society. Through this Winter Shelter Project many have come forward from outside of the church community in support and offered help. Last year more than 450 Volunteers from over 60 churches signed up to help staff the night shelters. This included people who are not worshiping in those particular churches or claim to be Christian, just simply offering their services. One volunteer generously donated his van for the duration of the project, making it possible for volunteers to move mattresses, bedding and other resources between the different churches.
Some facts from last year: Over 7,000 hours of time was donated by volunteers to show God’s love; Volunteer ages ranged from late teens to 75 plus; 12% of volunteers were from the wider community; 77% said they now felt more confident about volunteering at a shelter; 54 % had limited or no previous experience working with homeless individuals;
Bristol Hope Community Church is an inspiration to all, becoming part of a network of churches together that serve the community and provide safer environments for the homeless and the vulnerable. It’s amazing what Bristol Hope Community Church has achieved along with the other churches in the area. It is based on the right guidance and advice, a structure that is organised by agency staff and volunteers, and having faith in God to provide those things which sometimes we think are impossible – It is amazing when you ask your local community to respond to the need what can be achieved through Faith and the love and compassion of those within your area.
Hope Community Church certainly inspires and gives us all Hope for identifying the needs of the local community and acting.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Mt 25:35).
Your Friend and Minister
Growing In Faith Together
A course for those wishing to learn more about the Christian faith or those wishing to explore Christianity further through the Bible.
Course details :
April 15 & 29
May 6, 13, 20, 27
at Clarendon Park Congregational Church, Springfield Road, LE2 3BB
• Open to Christians and Non-Christians
• All course fees paid in full by Clarendon Park Congregational Church.
• Modular course – 4 core modules plus one extra decided upon by the group.
• Completion of GIFT enables access to a Foundation Degree in Theology, sponsored by the Church.
• Group centred learning – you guide the learning.
• Food provided at meetings!
• For more info contact John Bentham on 0116 2710762 or Fiona Harris on 07881 781255.