Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Service Offering

On Thanksgiving Day I participated in the annual service at St. Paul's Cathedral here in London. It's an amazing of the largest gatherings of Americans each year in the city. You can see some coverage here:

Part of the service involves choosing a charity as the recipient of the offering, and this year I had the chance to introduce the organization we selected.

Some of you know that I worked for two different service providers for homeless people in the LA area. One of those was a 'rolling shelter' in Pasadena, where seven churches committed to one night per week during the winter months. It was a great way to use space and people power that already existed to accomplish something important and helpful and loving.

Through some friends here in London I met the staff of the Camden and City Churches Cold Weather Shelter, otherwise known as C4WS. (See I wasn't surprised to be impressed by their passion and concern for homeless people...there is no shortage of either in most charitable organizations that help the needy. What did impress me was the resourcefulness and competence of the Shelter staff...qualities which are often lacking in a lot of charities. Jhoana and Jamie are good, caring people, who know how to do their jobs well with minimal resources and facilities. We could all learn a lot from them.

We were impressed enough to sign on with C4WS for the coming winter season. The American Church in London will host 14 homeless men and women for the 12 Wednesday nights during January, February and March. We're busy now securing volunteers, buying supplies and planning out meals. At every step of the way, the Shelter staff (all two of them) have been encouraging, inspirational, and most of all, helpful.

So back to the Thanksgiving Day service.

It was my privilege to stand in front of the 2200 people there and ask them for money to support the work of C4WS. Below are my remarks as I shared them in the service.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Like many Americans, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It combines the best foods, the best of our families and friends, and even the best sports—all in one special day. It’s a day of sharing, of welcoming, of setting the extra place at the table.

I was speaking with a reporter yesterday who had been posted in the US for a few years, and she was still amazed at how many American families had invited her to join in their Thanksgiving meals. She thought she was intruding, until she understood the meaning behind the holiday.

At Thanksgiving we pause to remember, and to be grateful for the material blessings in our lives. That makes it a perfect day to pause and remember those among us who have fallen on difficult times—who have needs that seem far away from our own circumstances—in particular today we pause to think about the homeless here in London.

Each year the churches who host this service choose a charitable organization to receive the proceeds of the offering. This year we have selected the Camden and City Churches Cold Weather Shelter.

This amazing group of people hosts a rolling shelter, in which a group of churches commit to welcoming homeless men and women for a home cooked dinner, some conversation and fellowship, a warm bed for the night and a hot breakfast in the morning. This year my congregation will be participating for the first time, and we can’t wait to begin.

London, for all its beauty and history and opportunity, can be a tough place to live in the best of circumstances. To be homeless in London brings with it almost unimaginable challenges and dangers. Statistics can tempt us into thinking of homelessness as an abstract idea—something faceless and without much meaning. I’ll share just two related statistics with you this morning.

The life expectancy of a homeless person in London is 42.

The average age of those served by the Cold Weather Shelter is 38.

Think about that for a moment. This shelter is rescuing men and women who are literally nearing the end of their days. The shelter provides a safe place, good food, and a healthy dose of hope for its guests.

But the Cold Weather Shelter doesn’t only provide beds and meals. They also help people find permanent housing, medical assistance, and opportunities to work. One of the Shelter staff told me last week that their goal is to make sure that last year’s guests don’t need the services of the Shelter this year.

The passage of Scripture we just heard (Colossians 3:12-17) reminded us that it is important to be clothed with compassion. That’s one of those everyday truths, but it takes on even more significance as we gather in this beautiful place, to celebrate God’s rich provision for us.

As you consider your offering today, I encourage you to clothe yourself with compassion for the homeless in this great city. If I can be so bold, please consider giving £20 today to support the work of the Camden and City Churches Cold Weather Shelter.

Add this moment to the list of things you’re thankful for today.

Add saving a life to the list of gifts you and your family will share this holiday season.

Thank you very much, God bless you all, and Happy Thanksgiving.

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