The Poor - A Wonder

I am among the poor. Refugees and asylum seekers flee in fear of their lives. They arrive, often illegally. They are sent to big cities like Birmingham. The Government Home Office gets them cramped accommodation and a very limited money card that has to be spent on food. They are not allowed to find work. Sometimes the Home Office delays processing their forms for months or years. They resort to various charities. The Narthex Charity in Sparkhill, Birmingham is unique. It is a holistic hub for a large range of charities in premises provided by a Christian Church. I witnessed large families arrive from Syria, a destitute old man, Iranian Christians who had fled persecution. Here they will find a food bank, a clothes and toiletries centre, and advice agencies. These can help them with form-filling, solicitors, learning English, benefits and housing. A parish nurse gives unwell people, who could not afford a taxi to a health centre, a blood test on the spot and she contacts needed health professionals.

I visit the food bank. I had no idea of the security checks, protocols and procedures that are now required. I had to sign to six pages re data protection and confidentiality in order to get in. Food supplies come from parents' donations via their children's school, churches, mosques, Sikh temples and shops. Each item is weighed, dated, categorised as halal or standard etc. Only applicants who have successfully filled in a form at a job centre, Citizens Advice Bureau or Red Cross Centre are given entrance. They then fill in more forms and are allocated to a volunteer staff person. Each item of food they receive is ticked off a list. A few paid professionals and many volunteers are very busy all day. Before a recipient (who must be on state benefit and who has hit a snag or who may be an asylum seeker) departs from the one-to-one conversation and selection of food, the volunteer says : 'We are a Christian Charity and would like to pray for you if you wish this. Would you like us to?' I think most wish for this.

Narthex networks with Sahara Safe Hub which supports victims of domestic violence. It networks with City of Sanctuary, a national movement of people who create a culture of welcome and safety. They encourage residents to invite a refugee to a meal, to learn a sport or hobby with them or to hold an inter-faith welcome at their church.

Narthex - a major operation of fourteen paid staff and many volunteers, is hosted by St. John's Church, at the heart of Sparkhill, whose population is 98% Pakistani Muslim. It requires massive fund-raising. Lynchpins, who support the Vicar and his wife (John and Frances) are Geoff and Joy Holt, who are leads in account-keeping, management building and sustaining the good ethos. As members of The Community of Aidan and Hilda they commit 'to speaking out for the poor, the powerless and those unjustly treated in our society, and to minister to and with them as God directs.'

Christianity is declining in rich countries but it began as a mass movement among the poor. I think it can become a mass movement among the poor again.

Posted at 05:28am on 24th November 2015
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