I suppose the “journey started” when I used to talk to Ted* after the evening service over coffee and biscuits. I noticed that over time, Ted would say more, share more, and socialise with others. I also saw Ted regularly when I helped with the Friday night soup run.
In late 2013, after it was announced in church that there was a ‘café church
community’ close by needing volunteers, I prayed and went along with Patrick to help.
Immediately, I was struck by the love, grace and gentleness that Patrick showed; as he moved around the tables of four, reading a paragraph from Matthews gospel, saying the Lord’s prayer with them and maybe adding a few words. Kneeling by the table he would stretch out his upturned hand, and they’d place their hands on top in an act of unity and prayerfulness.
For me, it has been easy to minister from a position of brokenness - it has been a bit like ‘by the grace of God go I.’
This has been even more prominent recently as I am encountering a period of ill health, whilst also remembering the times as a teenager and at music college receiving medication for anxiety to enable me to cope with performance based music exams. I have always realised that stressful circumstances and a turning to different forms of addiction can easily spiral out of control and eventually result in homelessness. However, in my case, I was fortunate to be supported by the love, care, and encouragement of a close family at home.
*Name has been changed to protect person's identity.
God has gradually drawn me into the ministry - Anthony started helping; initially monthly, then weekly as he recognised the need for continuity to build relationships. I soon realised our Sunday lunchtime roast was a thing of the past and that it was better to get involved!
Initially I would pray in a separate room, where I felt more in my comfort zone, but gradually God encouraged me to join in, reading and praying in the cafe. As I got to know some of the regulars, see God move in answer to prayer, and as others with a similar heart joined the team, I started to see God’s vision unfold;
Jesus came to proclaim freedom for the captives. (Isaiah 61 v 1-3, Luke 4 v 18-19).
Continuing the journey
We left the cafe in 2016 and, having built connections, we felt encouraged by God to continue, albeit providing the food and drink ourselves. We relocated to the Bear Pit but after a few weeks, this seemed an unsuitable place, so we moved across to St James’ Park (opposite Primark). By that time, I’d been inspired by a video of the Church Without Walls in London. We find that the open space is accessible to all, and many of us realise that this is a place reflecting God’s presence and peace. It is apparently the site where the Wesleys once preached and gave out food. We have also been in awe of God’s provision of dry, and even sunny weather, without fail every Sunday between 1-2.30pm!
And so here we are, reaching out to our brothers and sisters with God’s love, after all, we are all made in His image. The team draws from various churches, including Christ Church, Hope Chapel, Woodlands and Pip n Jay. Our aim is to provide not only
physical but also spiritual food; by reading the gospel to those interested, listening and praying for healing. It is a privilege to be involved, but each week I am challenged by what it looks like to ‘love my neighbour as myself’.
I am humbled by my lack, but inspired by God’s grace and abundance. We believe that we are just beginning to see the amazing work God longs to do amongst those we meet in the park - Thy Kingdom come!
- Anthony & Liz Warbutton