When I first became Rector of Gosford at the end of last Century I discovered that local churches, in keeping with St Paul’s injunction, were certainly not “lacking in zeal” when it came to serving the Lord in the homeless (Romans 12:11). In fact there seemed to be a great deal of competition, if little co-ordination, in this expression of Christian ministry.
In his book Sharing God’s Blessing Robin Greenwood proposes, “that we seek ways to transform the operational theology of the church on the basis that all Christians can act in partnership instead of competition”. This is never truer than when it comes to ministering with the homeless.
For Gosford it took a well-organised non-profit organisation to “borrow” a building from the Central Coast Leagues Club, gather religious groups and service clubs together and enable the entire community to offer services to the homeless. Today Coast Shelter is still going strong and continues to be a major provider of services on the Coast.
Of course for the Christians involved in this ministry it is Christ we are serving (Matt 25:10).
Each year as winter approaches Gosford Anglicans, through the ministry of “the sign” partner with the local and wider community in collecting blankets for the homeless. Blankets don’t last long for many homeless people, they get wet and need to be discarded, they are thrown away by people who don’t understand that they were just being stored behind that dumpster during the day, they are sometimes just misplaced or “borrowed”.
We distribute most of these blankets through Coast Shelter but some we leave on the office verandah for those who sleep there, or for collection late at night. While working late one winter’s night, I discovered a man trying to sleep on the verandah, shivering from cold. I will never forget the look on his face when I covered him in a warm dry blanket. It was for him as if his mother was tucking him in. But for me it was as if I had comforted Christ himself.
Despite our best efforts sometimes people still succumb to the cold, yes the homeless are literally dying on our streets. In Homeless Week each year we hold a memorial service at Coast Shelter to remember those who no longer journey with us and to remind ourselves that the suffering Christ is always waiting for us in the streets, waiting for a blanket, some food and some company.
By The Venerable Rod Bower