On Easter Sunday while it was still dark, I arrived at church to set up for the outdoor Easter Sunrise service on the plaza at the rear of Pilgrim Uniting Church.
We regularly have ‘rough sleepers’ under the shelter of the verandah at the back of the church office adjacent to the plaza. My arrival while it was still dark caused the person closest to the door to sit bolt upright and be on alert immediately for impending danger. I reassured him ‘it was just me, you know me, one of the Ministers here in the church’. With that he relaxed, and resettled into his sleeping position. I felt glad that we could offer a place of safety and sanctuary and that we know these rough sleepers by name. I went about the work of setting up for the service, and in deference to the sweet soundscape of snoring coming from the rough sleepers, I moved our usual location to one side so as not to further disturb them.
For the service, we gathered around a brazier fire and shared stories. Afterwards, we shared freshly baked damper finished off in the brazier coals, and fish fingers, and tea and coffee. The rough sleepers came and joined us, enjoying the sweet smells of freshly cooked food, and warm drinks after a chilly night sleeping out. It was perfectly normal for us all to be together – those who had warm beds for the night, and those who slept in sleeping bags on the cold bricks under the shelter of the verandah. And some generously helped us pack up afterwards.
On Easter Monday, I came across these images of a campaign by Homelessness charity Depaul, which has launched a new outdoor campaign to deliver varying messages about living on the streets to viewers depending on their positioning near the posters. The messages encapsulate two walls across a right angle. When one side is viewed stereotypes and negative perceptions of the homeless arise, but when both walls are visible are more complex picture arises. Quite literally, “there is another side to the story”. (see the two images below – one from a limited perspective, and then the other with a more complete story)
Each of our rough sleepers have their stories – encounters with bureaucracy and welfare agencies, broken relationships, time in prison. There are many reasons they choose to sleep rough rather than go through the system to find housing. The example of Jesus enables us to see that human worth is not indexed to worldly success, and that each person is beloved of God, deserving of care and compassion.