Kirk members brave sub-zero temperatures to raise awareness of homelessness

Around 1,500 people connected to the Church of Scotland took part in the world’s biggest sleepout to raise awareness of homelessness.

Right Rev Dr Derek Browning
Moderator Right Rev Dr Derek Browning and members of St Columba's Parish Church in Glenrothes.

They came to Edinburgh from across Scotland and braved sub-zero temperatures to bed down in Princes Street Gardens on Saturday 9 December as part of Sleep in the Park.

Musicians Liam Gallagher, Deacon Blue, Amy Macdonald and Frightened Rabbit performed stripped-back sets.

Actor John Cleese told a bedtime story and comedian Rob Brydon, retired cyclist Sir Chris Hoy and campaigner Sir Bob Geldolf spoke to the crowd.

Participants had to raise at least £100 to take part and donations topped £3.6million at the start of the event, organised by social enterprise sandwich business Social Bite.

Rev MaryAnn Rennie of Dunfermline Abbey took part with 11 members of her congregation.

The group has raised £8,432.63 so far which means it is placed 4th in the top 50 individual fundraiser list.

Social problems

Around 8,000 people took part in Sleep in the Park – part of a Social Bite’s vision to eradicate homelessness in Scotland within five years.

The Kirk's social care arm, CrossReach, had a stall at the event to support participants and raise awareness about the cradle to the grave services it provides across Scotland.

It offers accommodation and support to people who are homeless in Stornoway, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Right Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly, joined Scottish Government ministers including Deputy First Minister John Swinney, under the stars.

Dr Browning said it was unlikely the event would eradicate homelessness in itself but thousands more people are now more aware of what some people face night after night all year round.

“Homelessness is not simply the lack of a roof over your head,” he added.

“It is a symptom which has many root causes.

“Domestic abuse, relationship breakdown, unemployment, poverty, substance and alcohol addiction and poor mental health.

“If we are going to address homelessness we also need to address these and other issues in our communities, in our country and in our churches.”

Moderator Right Rev Dr Derek Browning
Moderator Right Rev Dr Derek Browning with church members who braved the elements to tackle homelessness.

Dr Browning said he agreed with his predecessor, Very Rev Dr Russell Barr, that the issue transcended party politics.

“It is a social, economic and broadly political issue and the Church is grateful to him for the lead he continues to give in this area,” he added.

“It is an issue that, for those of us from the Christian faith, asks us to think again how we love, or fail to love, our neighbours as ourselves.

“It was humbling and moving to meet so many people from churches and other faith families, charity volunteers and politicians.

“Young people, older people, country people and town people, people in groups and people on their own, all wanting to say something and do something to begin to help and to continue to help.”

Difference for good

Dr Browning said Sleep in the Park was more than simply a gesture and mere tokenism.

“Awareness was raised, or deepened, or came for the first time,” he added.

“I was reminded how many Church of Scotland charities- CrossReach, Borderline and ScotsCare - alongside so many other charities and groups, work all the year round to bring help.

“For all the charities that we support, for all the good causes that rightly claim a part of our heart and a part of our efforts, how can we continue to help and make a difference for good?”

Dr Browning said today's lectionary readings focus on comforting people, bringing fairness and equality into a needy world and listening to what God is saying today.

“The work continues, the needs remain, and all people of good will and kindliness are called to do what they can and when they can,” he added.

“So that step by step, link by link, day by day, hope comes steadily and keeps coming for as long as it is needed.”