Thursday, 9 October 2008

Harvest Gratitude - Uncertainties and Anxieties

The interactive homily I shared at our Harvest Thanksgiving Eucharist has been evolving on the weekdays since - as I've been developing it at assemblies in our local schools. The main thrust of my approach has been to ask the children what people get anxious about (cf Matthew 6.25: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink..."). Alarmingly the children - aged 4 to 11 - have picked up on every point that I wanted to illustrate: financial uncertainty, banks, mortgages, energy and fuel costs. And when I've asked them what people say they need, it's been the same refrain: up-to-date mobile phone, Play Station, fashionable clothes... They're really too young to get all these answers. But it's a warning as to how astute they may be, how they may pick up on adult anxieties, and how they're already fashioned with materialistic assumptions.

The assemblies in fact were great... joyful occasions, and the children see the point of thankfulness. For any clergy who moan about having to do a school assembly, I think they need to ask what they think they're in business for. Grumpy as I might be beforehand, assemblies (nearly) always cheer me up. And these are all normal state schools - no church schools in this parish.

And I've been reflecting on just what I have to learn from the last few days. Yesterday evening I loaded up the car (a Citroen Berlingo which is really a rattly van with windows) with the offerings made at our Harvest Eucharist. Even with the back seats down, the bags and boxes had to be piled up. Cause for self-congratulation as I headed off to The People's Kitchen in Newcastle to deliver our offering for their work with homeless people. I knew that they would be open for free meals, warmth and hospitality - but the gates for the car park and entrance to the food store were locked. Reality hit home when I went to the main door. There was quite a lively crowd of "customers" gathered there, but amid the hubbub and strong whiff of alcohol, I identified a volunteer worker. I began to say why I'd come, but then realised that some of the raised voices were about a young woman with quite a deep cut in her hand. The volunteer was trying to offer advice on what to do while having to deal with all the other advice her friends were offering him - and me turning up just to confuse matters.

I felt chastened. Homeless people are not just passive victims who wait for and gratefully receive our charity. Many of them are young, strong, opinionated, addicted. When open wounds and blood (and all its attendant risks) come into the equation, that's a lot to handle. But day-after-day that's exactly what is going on at the People's Kitchen.

We unloaded the goods which were speedily locked away. Then I found my diary wasn't in its usual jacket pocket. Had it fallen out in the car? (it wasn't there). Had I dropped it into one of the bags or boxes? Was it somewhere on the floor of the store room? Or had it been opportunely removed from my pocket? I could only say that there was nothing of monetary value in it, and that it had my contact details inside. It also had the contact details of quite a lot of other people, and I had visions of what might happen if someone looking further than the centre of Newcastle decided to visit my parishioneers and other contacts.

Very unworthy of me... Thankfully the diary was sitting on my desk back at the Vicarage. But it was a reminder of a harsh world which most of us merely glimpse, the need for proper security and the reality of what charity calls us to do - and what those people at the People's Kitchen do so much more of. Above all it's a reminder of our need for thankfulness.

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