“Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them… the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened.’ Luke 2: 8 – 15
“Let’s go,” the shepherds said. How many times this year have I wished I could “go”? Birthdays, weddings, funerals, new babies, Easter and so many other occasions have been different in 2020. How often have you gazed into a screen, glad of the faces before you but somehow feeling further apart than ever?
The desire for connection and community is at the heart of Glasgow City Mission. The City Centre Project Team have carried the desire to go deeper – with God and our guests – for years. We recognise that God made us for togetherness: that we are a broken, messy, loveable family. Back in March (a lifetime ago!) as the country slowly realised what was coming, we knew that our guests would be all the more vulnerable in the wake of the pandemic. We started asking our regular guests what they needed and kept clipboards at the doors so we could scribble down contact details for those who visited us less frequently.
In the first weeks of lockdown, we phoned or wrote to almost 700 people. While there was a serious need for practical essentials like food and toiletries, what became more prevalent was the desire to be seen, to be known and to be loved. I was, and still am, deeply moved by the way my colleagues persevered in trying many different methods to keep our guests connected: group video calls for Bible study, cooking, learning English, book group and more; weekly quiz on our Facebook page; art therapy; workouts; and games at Glasgow Green; hundreds of birthday cards posted to people who might receive no other. A team of volunteers made 70 calls a week to those who were particularly isolated – for six months!
Once we were able to reopen our Crimea Street building we were struck again by the value of community. Even in the past few weeks of the tier 4 lockdown, we have been able to safely run a Drop-in. Lindsay and her team cook two gorgeous meals each day. A small and faithful squad of volunteers repeatedly skoosh every surface with antibacterial spray and make an impossible number of cups of coffee.
Each week I tally the number of guests who visit us in person: around 80 per day. That number, to me, isn’t too significant. What I notice is the repetition. Perhaps a third of those guests visit twice a day: casting an eye over the small queue outside as they finish their breakfast and quickly finishing up to let someone in from the cold, knowing they’ll be back for lunch a few hours later. Closer to three-quarters visit us every day. I know of one elderly man who walks for 45 minutes to linger over the newspaper each day before walking the same distance home. What a privilege to host him and others like him.
Just like those Bethlehem shepherds, our guests know that there is something special drawing them in. They may not always recognise God’s hand in the welcome they receive, but it is our prayer that they would know community, connection and God’s love this Christmas.