When asked for words which describe my identity, I usually come up with things like: mum, wife, musician, cook, host. I don’t tend to think of myself as a Vicar’s Wife – ever. It’s not deliberate – I was once a Vicar’s Daughter, and have absolutely no problem with being married to a Vicar, in fact I quite like it. It’s just that we were married before he got ordained, and I did lots of things before that point, and do lots of things now. I just kind of forget.
Except for one Christmas. It was a few years ago, and the Husband-Who’s-A-Vicar was fairly new to his current job. I’d been roped in to play the organ at some service or other – possibly Christmas Day – and, as I’m a pianist not an organist (the two are Very Different), had popped along to church to practise. When I finished, I drove along the street to some of the tower blocks nearby, opened the car boot to reveal a rather lovely selection of hampers, and proceeded to knock on doors and give them out.
I chuckled inwardly, because this felt very Vicar’s-wifely. A spot of organ practice, followed by a Christmas visit to the ‘poor and needy’ of the parish. Roll over, Charles Dickens.
The hampers I was distributing were on behalf of the charity Besom, for whom I volunteered for a short while before the twins arrived. It’s a national charity which works very locally to serve those in need.
Throughout the year, Besom receives referrals from social services, IDAS, churches, schools, the YMCA, hostels – any organisation which serves the vulnerable. Those who are referred are usually in need of things or help around their home and garden. Perhaps they’ve just moved from a hostel into their first flat, and need basic furniture and homeware. Or they’re ill, or elderly, and need help with getting a wayward garden under control, or doing a spot of redecorating. Besom receives donations of things from all sorts of people who have good-quality items which are no longer needed. And they also receive offers of time – perhaps a church group willing to give a Saturday morning to helping someone in their community, or a group of students keen to meet those who live nearby.
At Christmas, our local Besom gives out well over 100 hampers around our city to those they have helped through the year. The hampers I was distributing a few years ago represented a small percentage of these – and it’s become a Christmas tradition (there I go again) for our church, and our housegroup, to make up one of these hampers each year.
Charity shouldn’t be a one-off act, but a long-term commitment. Besom is a great example of this: building relationships with clients which often last for years. In fact, our housegroup has made its hamper for the same family for the last two Christmases – it’s someone I know from the school-gate, and someone who’s had a particularly rough year.
Charity should be about getting alongside others, walking with them through their difficulties – not chucking a few pounds in a charity box, or organising standing orders (although, realistically, these are helpful too!). In the Christmas story, we don’t see ‘charity’, as such – we simply see a vulnerable young family who were given an important job to do. We see a young, first-time mother, pregnant outside marriage, willing to face the scorn of others in order to obey her Lord. We see a perplexed father – who isn’t actually the father – but has the humility to adopt one who doesn’t share his genes, and raise him as if he did. And we see a tiny baby, who is at risk of being killed by a jealous political ruler.
If the Christmas story means anything to us, let’s not judge why or how others are in the situations they’re in – but let’s walk alongside them, helping and being helped, befriending, learning from their stories.
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
* I’m going out on a limb here to suggest that time is probably the biggest obstacle most of us face when thinking about walking with the poor. Which one person will you commit to walking alongside for 2018? (This might be someone who is ‘poor’ financially, socially, physically or mentally.)
Father God, You deliberately sent Your Son into a vulnerable situation, and I praise You for what this teaches me about Your heart for the poor. Thank you that You love all who You have made. Help me to make time in 2018 for whoever You’ve put in my life to walk alongside. Amen.