Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Room at the Inn

Someone told me recently that they were involved in the Inn Church project. I googled it and was interested to read about it here. No doubt I will be told about the drawbacks and negatives and ifs and buts of this type of endeavour, I have to say though that I am always impressed to see and read about the level of service that people of faith offer to communities. I was talking the other day to someone whose partner is struggling with various problems as a result of having had a very difficult life and how the church has supported him and how someone in his congregation acts as an advocate on his behalf. Many years ago, I used to sometimes attend a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) with a friend. The temple always served a meal to its worshippers and I was struck by the considerable numbers of homeless people who arrived and ate at the temple. They were never turned away and they were always treated with the utmost courtesy.
Much of the work done by people and organisations of faith is done unobtrusively; this is as it should be and  yet it is a shame we do not see and hear more about it  it as that might lead to a greater appreciation of faith as a gift to society.


  1. Well, as you know, my PhD is concerned with faith-based welfare – and oddly enough my primary research involved working in two homeless centres in central London. Oddly enough my conclusions concerning this type of work have not changed from those I came to in 1988, as I was coming to the end of a year or so working at a faith-based night shelter for the homeless in Leeds. In the main I am a great supporter of faith-based initiatives – providing:

    1) They are enacted by the relevant faith community itself. i.e. not paying others to do the work for them – nor setting charities where sourcing and increasing revenue becomes major part of the work.

    2) They do work that is necessary and appropriate for the welfare of the people they have chosen to work with.

    The first point I have made is essential if ‘charity’ is really to have any meaning – particularly in a sacramental/eschatological manner. Otherwise charity just becomes a financial transaction – ‘I give £100 to such and such a charity – I have done my ‘bit’...’ whereas a church or faith community actually doing the work creates an opportunity for Christian/faith witness, but also it does something for those doing the witnessing! True charity is symbiotic and is a means of growing as an individual. Paying others to do the work has a habit of allowing us to remain just where we’ve always been... But also gives rise to charity as business – and this can (and does) become a muddied affair where different priorities and aims can both obscure the original purpose of the work and create a need and dependence that can trap people in poverty and destructive and chaotic behaviour.

    The work also has to be appropriate etc. I have noted before on this blog how Westminster City Council has banned soup runs – and in many cases, rightly so. One church in the Midlands used to provide a soup run to the West End on a Saturday night.... Are there no homeless people in Rugby or Coventry or the like they could minister to? But of course the excitement of visiting the West End of London probably blinded them to the folly of their actions. And of course this kind of ‘welfare’ traps people on the streets in a cycle of dependence just so some Christians in Birmingham can feel better about themselves...

    It’s an interesting issue... For me the work of faith-based welfare must be enacted by faith communities themselves, otherwise it is just a business and/or charity by proxy. At present almost all large scale faith based social welfare in the UK is mainly funded by the taxpayer via the charities bidding for contracts or charging local government for the services they provide (the Salvation Army, Leeds Catholic Care, Livability etc. all receive over 80% of their funding via the taxpayer for the social care work) . It will be interesting to see what happens to Inn Church – usually these charities begin with a charismatic leader or a group of committed individuals and within the space of a decade the charity has either folded or become a ‘professional’ charity, with contracts with local government, a staff team made up anyone willing to do the work while the bulk of ‘believers’ migrate to senior management or the board of trustees. Such faith based charities that survive become the favourite of the pious who can buy their charity and salve their guilt by a direct debit... or a few quid in a collecting box - with none of the hassle of having their evenings or weekends interrupted by something as mundane as volunteering or having to meet ‘those poor, unfortunate people. But at least someone is doing the work... and they are ‘Christians’. That’s what we Christians do best, we care for people...’. When in reality it is often someone else paying for the vast proportion of the work and someone else getting their hands dirty...