Thursday, 24 December 2015

Food, friendship and fun for everyone at Northampton Jesus Centre this Christmas

At this time of year most of us in the Western hemisphere will be eating more, over the holiday period,  than we usually would regardless of our faith or personal beliefs about Christmas; meals take on an additional significance at times of festivity. Food is a central part of any celebration and judging by the queues in the supermarkets food is an important part of the Christmas ritual for most people. But for others Christmas can be a painful reminder of what they haven’t got, including relationships that have broken down or are strained and loved ones who have died. Meals were very important to Jesus too He chose to spend the night before he died sharing a meal with his closest friends.

Here at the Northampton Jesus Centre we are only too aware that there will be many, not just the homeless, who will be eating alone over this holiday period and so we ensure that, although all our normal services are closed and staff and regular volunteers get a well-earned break we are providing a community meal for anyone who is on their own who cares to join us. Most of us would agree that even though manyof us in the Developed world have more than we've ever had, we are less satisfied and something of the joy in the simple things in life has been lost in the name of progress, trampled underfoot by the gods of comsumerism and materialism.

I was reading an article recently by community activist Jean Vanier*
he was asked if he ever regretted founding his community for physically and mentally impaired adults in 1964, or though he might have made the wrong decision. What he said resonated with me and my experience in a very different type of community:

  What struck me was that I’d found home… We had fun. Everything was around meals... "

         "When I say meals, we’d buy food, make food, cook food, eat food, do the washing up, prepare the next meal. Everything was around food and the food was to be around the table. 

         There’s a beautiful text of Jesus where he says, when you give a meal, don’t invite the members of your family, don’t invite your rich neighbours. When you give a really good meal, invite the poor, lame, the disabled and the blind and you will be truly blessed  
( Luke 14:13)….   

         So I wanted to build a community not an institution.
 And that’s what attracted people… 
when people came, they ate at our table and had fun.” **

I live in an intentional Christian community, in Northampton, with my husband and 10 other adults and 3 children who are not part of our natural family, but members of our church. Mealtimes are a central part of creating home, family and a sense of belonging to us too and so we will bring that sense of community and family with us when we cook brunch on Christmas morning for whoever cares to join us. We’ll all muck in and cook, wash up and welcome visitors and hopefully bring some love and joy and peace to those in need of it. So we will open our doors to whoever is in need of food, friendship and warmth and share something of the happiness we’ve found in our community family life together and we’ll have some fun together. 

Northampton Jesus Centre- Christmas meal times

Friday 25th December 10am-12pm –  Festive brunch for anyone on their own

Saturday 26th December 10-1pm -  Festive buffet lunch open to anyone on their own

Monday 1pm- 4pm Christmas curry - open to anyone on their own

Notes: *Jean Vanier -  is a Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian. He founded L'Arche in 1964, an international federation of communities spread over 35 countries, for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. (Wikipedia)

** Quotes from this article were taken from the original article produced in The Globe and Mail on 22nd December 2016  Jean Vanier’s comfort and joy: ‘What we have to do is find the places of hope’

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Why do we have Jesus Centres?

Jesus Centres are the Jesus Fellowship church/Jesus Army in action. They are an integral part of the ministry of the church. 


Jesus Centres aim to “Express the love of Jesus daily, in worship, friendship & help for every kind of person?”  

 As a social worker I had often longed for a one stop shop where people could come and have all of their needs met and where my faith could be a part of the helping them find a solution. So often social work just felt like sticking a plaster on a gaping wound- people found help and support and a limited alleviation from personal suffering but so often the root causes of why they were in the mess they were in went un dealt with. When the vision for Jesus Centres was first expressed to me my Spirit leapt but my head went,  “we’re made, we’re far too busy as a church to take this on. Do they have any idea what they’re getting us into?” 

So why did we embark on what has proved to be a tough cookie to digest?

 Times have changed and these days the church doesn’t always carry a lot of credibility with people- it might be seen as out dated or its members’ na├»ve.  The church needs to earn the right to speak and be heard by people. Jesus frequently met people’s practical needs for food & physical health before he told them to repent or called them to follow Him. 

They’re more easily accessible to a wider group of people.
Church can often feel like a club where people need to adhere to the members code of behaviour, values and beliefs. They are only available to people at certain times and days and people may fear being forced into making a commitment they’re not ready or equipped to make. Whereas Jesus Centres are public places open to anyone regardless of their faith or non-faith. People who might never go to church will feel more comfortable in the Jesus Centre. It meets more obvious needs in their lives. Agencies feel more comfortable signposting people for help and in providing services based at the Jesus Centre.  There is no faith requirement to access or participate in are groups or services. Therefore, it makes the church accessible & available to a wide variety of people.

They preach the gospel without words
Jesus Centres reach and meet people’s needs in a way that church can’t. It enables the church to be available to people during the day, every day.  They are better able to support those who are homeless, need to learn English, are lonely or have mental health issues.  We can provide a shower, laundry facilities, a listening ear, help learning English or an environment where people feel relaxed & welcome ; where they find home and family and a sense of belonging.

They extend the capacity of the church
It is a gateway to the Kingdom of God- it is the place where people can meet Christians and explore faith, if they wish, without going to church – which these days is alien to most of the population.
It is a net that can catch people if they begin to struggle in their faith, pick up old habits and lifestyles and disengage from the church but still need and want relationship and support.
They are better equipped & resourced to support and help people in a variety of ways.
It creates the time & space to listen to people; enables relationships to be formed without the clutter of needing to sign up to commitment or a certain doctrine or lifestyle.

They give people an outlet for service
They give the church an opportunity to put their faith into action and share the love of Jesus in practical ways. It was Mother Teresa who said “do small things with great love”.  The success of the Jesus Centres depends on each volunteer & member of staff doing these small acts of kindness with great love every single hour of every day we are open.
It’s a place where as Christians we can live out our faith and Jesus’ call to love the poor (& even rich people can be poor in Spirit- mentally, emotionally, relationally)

 They help people explore faith & find their place
They offer opportunities for church members and visitors to use their skills, develop new ones and feel they can be contributors more easily than it may be in the church.

 Here'a quote from one of our visitors who became a cafe helper:

“I am truly grateful to the Jesus Centre for allowing me to volunteer. During my time there, they did far more for me than I ever did for them. Thanks to them my confidence is restored and I’ve secured employment and my own flat. I’ve made many friends there. They are amazing people and I love them a lot. Without them, I don’t know where I would be.”

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The power of what we believe

I’ve been wanting to blog about the power of what we believe for a while. It was sparked by watching a film and reading a book about two boys from two different countries who had, what at first seemed like to very different experiences, but as I reflected on the powerful effect they had on me I realised that what had united them in their experiences was the sense that they were both in a prison of believing they belonged to no one and that no one cared about them.

 The first was the young boy in the film ‘I am David’ (based on the novel by Ann Holm),  who escaped from a prisoner of war camp aged 12 years old,  believing his parents were dead. The other was  Paul abandoned by his mother at 2 weeks old, found by a neighbour in amongst the rubbish, who was brought up in the notorious St Leonard’s children’s’ home in the 70’s (where paedophiles gained access to senior care worker positions and routine abused 100’s of children placed in their care.)  Just before David escaped from the prisoner of war camp, with the help of a German officer, he was told “Trust no one”. Paul’s experiences in the London children’s home taught him “trust no one”- because of their early experiences both of them believed they were worth nothing & didn’t deserve anything good to happen to them.

There is power in what we believe about ourselves.

What we believe impacts on how we behave. If you don’t believe you are worth anything then why does it matter if you wreck your body with alcohol and drugs and casual sex who cares anyway? How do you ever learn that God created you, in His image, as a unique human being who He loved & cared so much about you that He allowed His only son to be sacrificed in your place?

Many of our visitors have experienced rejection, abuse- sexual, emotional and physical, and from this they have believe that they are not worth anything to anybody.  However, with the help and support of the staff and volunteers here at Northampton Jesus Centre they find hope and begin to believe in themselves. 

A quote which I've decided to include in our annual report, from one of our volunteers, who started life as a visitor reminds of the importance of giving our visitors a chance

" Working at the Jesus Centre has given me the coherence to deal with difficult situations and people. I know I’ve changed for a better person since I’ve worked here.
I’d like to thank the staff for standing by me and offering me a chance and investing time in me.

The Jesus centre and its staff have inspired me to do better. The Jesus Centre truly is a place where everyone is valued – even me”

Friday, 30 January 2015

Welcome home

The death of visitors always causes you to reflect. Did we do all that we could have done? Did they experience the love of God through what we did do for them? Where are they now?  It reminds us how fragile some our visitors’ lives are and how important it is that they are made to feel welcome and at home.

We have a picture painted for us in our Step up, drop in space- it has many worn and lost faces – young old, black white with the title ‘ Welcome Home’ . When I look at it each morning it reminds me why I am doing what I am doing. Whether our visitors’ find a relationship with God  for themselves is not always  certain but as long as they find home – a place where they feel they are welcomed, accepted, valued and safe then they are already half way on the journey.

If your experience has taught you, that no one can be trusted;  how do learn to trust that not all fathers beat you or abuse you or let you down and that there is a heavenly father who is perfect in His love for you and who is totally trust worthy?

Part of the answer lies somewhere in a comment made to me in an attempt to help some of the sadness that I felt over the tragic end to these two visitors’ lives.

“ May be they saw enough of Jesus in us , that when they meet Him face to face they will recognise Him and that will be enough for Him to welcome them in.”