Moderator joins sleep in the park event for homeless

The Moderator of the General Assembly is taking part in the world’s largest ever sleepout to try and help “eradicate” homelessness.

Right Rev Dr Derek Browning is joining hundreds of Kirk members from across the country and bedding down in Edinburgh's Princes Street gardens on Saturday.

Right Rev Dr Derek Browning
L-R Very Rev Albert Bogle and Right Rev Dr Derek Browning.

The “Sleep in the Park” event, which will feature a host of celebrities including “buskers” Deacon Blue, Liam Gallagher and “bedtime story teller” John Cleese, is being organised by not-for-profit sandwich shop, Social Bite.

Dr Browning said: “Social Bite hopes that by raising funds and working together, the people of Scotland will create such an impetus that homelessness will be eradicated over a five-year period.

“The aim is not only to find provision for housing, but also to provide rehabilitation, job opportunities and support that will help people get back on their feet and find their place within society.

“The hope is that the many charities who work in these areas might also link up to provide ongoing support and care.”

Generosity

Dr Browning said the vision of the event is to make Scotland an example for the whole world to follow.

“We know we are a small country but we are also a nation of innovators, explorers, and philanthropists,” he added.

“We are a small country with a big and generous heart.

“At Christmas time there are many legitimate calls upon our time and our generosity.

“There are so many worthwhile charities and causes to support.

“But there is for Christians something compelling about the reality of homelessness that lies near the heart of the Christmas story.

“The homeless Christ child, the refugee Holy Family.”

Pauline Kerr
Pauline Kerr

Scottish Government figures, up to the period March 31, 2017, show that 28,247 people were assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness.

Compassion

Former Moderator, Very Rev Albert Bogle, who runs an online church called Sanctuary First, is also taking part in the mass sleepout which is expected to raise millions of pounds.

“I think it is important that the Church of Scotland stands with other people of good will who want to make a difference in the world,” he added.

“By standing together, we can all begin to nudge the whole nation towards a more compassionate and caring society.”

Mr Bogle, who was Moderator in 2012-13, is planning to hand out thousands of “memento cards” to participants.

They bear the message “together we have helped to make a difference in the world and together we have helped to end homelessness.”

The event is supported by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Community Secretary Angela Constance and Housing Minister Kevin Stewart are taking part.

Mr Bogle said the participation of government ministers meant they could be better held to account over action to eradicate homelessness.

Real difference

Pauline Kerr, a member of Greyfriars Parish Church in Lanark, explained why she is braving the cold with friends.

“I think it’s vitally important to recognise that many people are suffering and try to do my small bit to change this.

“The Sleep in the Park is a fantastic opportunity to get involved in an event to raise awareness as well as funding, and I hope that by getting lots of people together it can make a real difference.”

Susan Morton
L-R Sue Farrar, Susan Morton and Janet Thomas.

Janet Thomas, who attends St Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Newcastle upon Tyne, is sleeping out with Susan Morton and Sue Farrar.

Mrs Thomas said: “It is an opportunity to do something which will make a difference to so many rather than a few individuals.

“As members of the Kirk, a majority of us have family and friends in Scotland and wish to continue our support to our neighbours and not to past by on the other side.”

Ms Farrar, who attends St Fillan's Church in Aberdour, said she could not begin to imagine what it feels like to experience homelessness.

“This event is an opportunity to play a tiny part in helping bring alive the words‘everyone deserves a chance to have a place called home'’.

Rev MaryAnn Rennie of Dunfermline Abbey is taking part with 11 members of her congregation, the oldest of which is 83.

Rev MaryAnn Rennie
Rev MaryAnn Rennie and members of Dunfermline Abbey who are all taking part in Sleep in the park.

The group has raised £5,965.25 so far which means it is placed 8th in the top 50 individual fundraiser list.

The Church of Scotland’s social care arm, CrossReach, offers accommodation and support to people who are homeless in Stornoway, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Kirk members support the Borderline and Scotscare charities, which help homeless Scots in London.

Many congregations across Scotland support homeless people in a variety of different ways.

St Columba’s Church in London supports Glass Door, a charity that provides shelter for homeless people.

Night shelter

St Cuthbert’s Parish Church in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens operates a night shelter in conjunction with Bethany Christian Trust for 50 days during the winter months.

Around 60 people benefit each day and hot meals are served in the church.

Peter Sutton
Rev Peter Sutton

Minister, Rev Peter Sutton, said St Cuthbert’s is hosting a Sleep Out in the Park follow-up meeting on January 31.

Former Moderator, Very Rev Dr Russell Barr, who founded the Fresh Start charity in Edinburgh which helps people who have been homeless get back on their feet, will be a guest speaker.

The minster of Cramond Kirk is a member of the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group.