Christmas Day At The Vaughn Centre:
The Vaughn Centre - a retreat for the rough sleepers, the lonely, the dispossessed - shuts its doors on January 3rd. Everybody I talk to knows this shouldn't be happening, but feels powerless to stop it.
An appeal went out on Radio Gloucestershire a few days ago for a wealthy patron to donate enough money to secure its future, and who know? Miracles do happen from time to time. "Write to The Prince of Wales" i advise Lucinda, "After all, he's a Gloucestershire resident ... and this IS the only facility for the seriously impoverished in the County." She might. I might, come to that. Writing to politicians hasn't proved that effective. Compassion in public life is a luxury we can't afford these days.
The atmosphere on Christmas Day was upbeat. A delicious meal, cooked by a local church and delivered onsite, is being enjoyed by thirty os so people. Tricia, dressed in her finest skin-tight sateen leggings and calf-length boots is happier than I've seen her for months. She's trans-gender: the group with a 40% suicide rate. If anyone tells you its 'just a lifestyle choice' tell them that.
At her lowest, she was told by a psychiatrist, "How come someone as ugly as you wants to be a woman?" How come he got away with it? That's a no-brainer. Tricia is poor and powerless, you can say what you like to people like her and get away with it. Believe me, all kinds of abuse are aimed at you if you can't, or don't know how to, stand up for yourself.
Andy and Mo are planning to marry next summer. They showed me the gifts they exchanged that morning. "We're buying our proper presents tomorrow, in the sales!" We all laugh.
Chris is very chatty today. Unusually polite. Oh well, it is Christmas! Bob, baptised just three weeks ago, is still coming to terms with his new-found faith. "It'll take a while," he confides. "It'll take FOREVER Bob!" I say. He gives his take-away supper to Candy who is late because the police came round to her place looking for someone. " I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had two dinners already," he explains, ever so slightly embarrassed by his generosity.
Candy's dog attacks Chris's dog and we all pay attention to that until its over, and then the carols start. I'm in the choir. Nobody thought to bring any words, but fortunately Chris ("I used to be in the choir at St Peter's") has a Booklet he lifted from the Mission Carol Service the previous Wednesday, so we're all set.
Six of us cluster cosily around the lonely set of words and belt out all the old favourites.
"No crib for his bed." That's when I understood. The rich aren't here, where poverty, mental illness, and inability to cope with the complexities of modern life are to be found... Here are the poor, and the poor in spirit.
Here is the baby in the manger, born into poverty to be one with the poor.
Here, with the hungry, the abused, the lost and the lonely, is the Holy One, hanging on a cross.