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Image: Building communities of welcome


21/07/2017

In our latest blog, Iain Johnston, Director of Faith in Community Scotland, reflects on one of the charity’s projects which seeks to build community amongst people leaving prison.


We finally got round to it. The climb up Ben A’an.  Not a normal ‘day at the office’ for any of us – but there isn’t such a thing in the diverse work of Faith in Community Scotland!  Some folk didn’t make it right to the top, but what really mattered was the encouragement, care and support shared and received by everyone in the group, whether they were enjoying the climb now that they were out of prison, or taking part as a volunteer or member of staff.
 
In Faith in Community Scotland we believe profoundly in the goodness which lies deep within people and communities, and we play our part in harnessing the potential of everyone to work for positive change – at both a personal level and in building flourishing communities where people are loved, welcomed and encouraged to be all they can be.
 
One way we do this is through our Faith in Throughcare project, which we’ve been developing for the past 7 years in the north of Glasgow, and more recently in Kilmarnock, Inverclyde and Dundee.  When ‘Andy’ (his name has been changed) was nearing the end of his sentence in Low Moss prison, he started to meet with us to prepare; and on the day of release, one of our volunteers met him at the gate.
 
Andy faced many challenges, certainly.  For a start, he needed to sort out somewhere to stay; and he was determined to stay off drugs – something we were keen to support him in. But that wasn’t – and isn’t - the whole story.
 
Andy had – and has - hopes and dreams. And this lies at the core of our work.  We listen carefully to people like Andy, supporting them to make changes – and encouraging them to take up new challenges.  For Andy it was cooking and enjoying the outdoors.
 
Andy helped plan a residential trip to Argyll, the first time he had been anywhere so beautiful.  Before the trip Andy had never cooked.  A volunteer encouraged him to try something new and on the second day he cooked lunch for 18 people and was delighted! 
 
It may seem simple but Andy’s confidence grew and he’s continued to cook for himself and get out of the city and into a peaceful environment.  Others have become involved in gardening, creative writing groups, photography classes and community choirs.
 
And in all this work, we depend on the interest and support of local communities, including churches.    In the north of Glasgow, for example, St Augustine’s Parish works closely with St Matthew’s Episcopal Church and Colston Milton Church of Scotland. They support us in lots of different ways by offering space to meet, lending the minibus for trips and playing an active part in the local management group.
 
But it’s the volunteers who make a real difference.  They are the ones who help build communities of welcome and hospitality where people who are leaving prison can share a coffee with new friends, learn how to grow potatoes, take up glass painting, or sing their heart out!
 
Back to that climb up Ben A’an.  It was a challenge for sure, steep at the bottom and then again at the top – with a gentle meander in the middle.  When we got to the top, we all relished the view as far as the eye could see.  And although we eventually had to come down, the memories of the view – and the companionship on the way up – provide each of us with the fuel and energy to take us on to the next challenge.
 
So - if you believe in the potential of people, and can spare about half a day a week (or more), we would love to hear from you!  We start new volunteer training programmes in Glasgow and Dundee on the 31 August, so if you’re interested, please get in touch on 0141 221 4576, or by sending an email to info@faithincommunityscotland.org .


Image: Strength from No Religion


14/07/2017

George Allan of The Wayside Club for the vulnerable and homeless in Glasgow writes our new blog.  Described by the late Cardinal Winning as "The Jewel in the crown of the Archdiocese of Glasgow" the Wayside Club epitomises Pope Francis' recent message when announcing the 1st World Day of the Poor on 19th November 2017, "Love not in word but in deed".


The Wayside Club Centre at 32 Midland Street, Glasgow, G1 4PR, has been supporting the homeless and vulnerable in Glasgow for over 70 years. Our ethos has remained constant, maintaining the truths of our Catholic faith, and emphasising that we are in no position to judge anyone or indeed be upset by others who don't always agree with the One from whom we draw strength.
 
The club opens its doors every evening all year round, and on Saturday afternoons. Our Presidium Group, Our Lady of the Wayside, has 18 regular members who volunteer in turn to work on a particular evening or to do a Saturday afternoon shift, so that the club is consistently open for our patrons (the word we use for club users). We are a very diverse group of lay Catholics of varying ages and backgrounds who unite in supporting patrons in many aspects of their lives.
 
An average of 60 - 70 patrons come to the club each time we open. Patrons of many faiths and none are given food, access to clean clothing and if needed, haircuts. They can enjoy light entertainment and company and if they wish, can spend some time in our oratory.
 
On Sunday evenings, clergy always come along to support us. They are so generous with their time and as well as chatting with our patrons, they offer Mass, which gives them the opportunity to share in the Sacraments.
 
The patrons, many of whom have personal issues or have had difficulties throughout their lives, are often a great source of learning and can be inspirational.
 
I recall a cold wet dark miserable January evening when the doorbell rang and we opened the door to a patron called Grahame. Grahame doesn’t often come to the club and he was looking rather downtrodden. He asked ‘Do you have anything holy you could give?’ We handed him rosary beads, he thanked us and left, but a few seconds later the bell rang again. It was Grahame again, and he asked ‘Can you say that prayer thing over the rosary?’ We worked out with Grahame that he was referring to blessing of the rosary beads, which can only be done by clergy. As he looked disappointed when we told him this, I asked ‘Would you like to say a prayer together?’
He answered ‘I don't know any prayers and have no religion,’ so I said a simple prayer that my mother used to say each evening before we all went to sleep: ‘God Bless Grahame and keep him safe from all harm.’
It is very easy to forget in this busy confusing world of ours what and who we are. If we take each other and God for granted we are missing great times and opportunities to strengthen the gifts of faith.
 
On that dreich busy Friday evening, the conditions were challenging. But God's real presence was there, radiating and supporting someone who life had thrown a few curveballs, leaving him homeless and an addict. With no religion and little knowledge of regular prayers, Grahame still had faith in God and he was an inspiration.
 
Jesus has promised He will return. I often wonder where He will grace with His presence and what will He look like. Will I choose to ignore him if he challenges my prejudices or fears, or will I be like St Thomas who asked for proof before I believe?
 
Sometimes we need to have thinking time to reflect on the gift of faith that many of us have inherited from each other and from generations of the faithful who have supported the club with their generosity and more importantly, their prayers.
 
May we be strong in our trust in God during challenging times, just like Grahame, confronting injustices directed at the needy and particularly towards our faith, even if this means being a lone voice in a busy room.


Image: Apostleship of the Sea


07/07/2017
To mark Sea Sunday on 9th July, our new blog is written by Doug Duncan of Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), an agency of the Catholic Church that looks after the faith, pastoral and practical needs of seafarers.  Doug has been supporting the stranded Indian crew of a ship detained in Aberdeen since June 2016. 
 



The words of St Mathew’s gospel “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” probably best sum up my involvement with the abandoned seafarers from the offshore supply ship mv Malaviya Seven, which has been stuck in Aberdeen port for almost a year now.

The men are all Indian nationals and some of them have been on the ship for that length of time. Not surprisingly, it has been really difficult for them.
 
I have been supporting the seafarers since their vessel was detained. They were last paid in July 2016 and the crew on board as well as several of those who have now gone home are owed more than $650,000 in unpaid wages.
 
The seafarers’ predicament not only affects them, it also affects their families back home who have food, living accommodation and other costs to pay.  Several have school children and higher education fees to pay. This is one of their main worries and stresses – how to support their families back home in India.
 
I had a phone call from one seafarer’s wife asking me “What can you do?” It’s really sad to hear someone at the end of the phone crying and pleading “When is my husband going to get home?” Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer.
 
AoS ship visitors and I have gone on board the ship daily, talking to the men, providing practical help such as taking them to the dentist, hospital, arranging to get their hair cut – just making sure they’re not forgotten and are cared for during this anxious time.
 
We try and keep their spirits up and provide much-needed escape by taking them out and about to see local places of interest. So far we’ve visited local castles including Balmoral, Crathie, Fyvie and Dunnotar. We also visited nearby cities and villages including Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Stonehaven. Just recently, we took a few of them to Pittodrie Stadium and to an indoor cricket match.
We've also taken them to Mass - we attended Stations of the Cross during Lent, the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and Easter Mass during Lent and Easter. They thoroughly enjoyed it. One Hindu seafarer requested a visit to a Sikh temple to celebrate a special day for him so we made the necessary arrangements.
 
Last November I arranged for Bishop Hugh Gilbert to go on board the ship. He spent time with the crew, shared a meal with them and blessed both the seafarers and the vessel. The crew said “It was the most remarkably auspicious event for all of us. The ship’s atmosphere is now well charged with great positivity, divinity and great blessings of Almighty Lord the God.  Divinity has approached us miraculously.” 
 
The local parishes and community have been very generous, buying groceries and toiletries and making the crew feel welcome. The men spent Christmas with the Goan community, who invited them to a gathering, prepared Indian food, and shared dancing and games.
 
Pope Francis calls on those who work for the wellbeing of seafarers and their families to “be the voice of those workers who live far from their loved ones and face dangerous and difficult situations”. Seafarers are often referred to as 'the invisible on the margins of society'. By highlighting the situation of the Malaviya Seven crew AoS hopes to make them visible. Let the Lord bring light into their situation.
 
*Sea Sunday falls on July 9. Find out more about Sea Sunday and the work of AoS and how you can play a part in supporting seafarers at www.apostleshipofthesea.org.uk
picture by Mark Leman


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