Saturday, 5 March 2011

Tough on charity, tough on the causes of charity?

Further to the last post, and as promised, a few further reflections on the Westminster issue may be found on the Guardian website

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Works of mercy

Christ of the Breadlines (1950) by Fritz Eichenberg

Most Monday evenings last semester, the college's Frassati Society (including most of the members of the House community) would take flasks of tea and coffee, sandwiches, cakes, and fruit out to the homeless of the local area. We tried Twickenham, Richmond, Kingston and Hammersmith on various occasions - some of them several times. Most of the time, we never met with much 'success' (which, had we been sure there was noone in the area who would have appreciated our meagre offerings, we'd have of course been delighted by). But as the term went on, more and more people joined in. The first time, fittingly on the Feast of St Vincent de Paul (St Mary's was founded by the Vincentians), two people went out. This steadily grew week on week, peaking once at about fourteen, though there were normally eight or nine, and never the same group each week. After traipsing around our chosen location for thirty or forty minutes, we'd end up in a pub.

This semester, however, we tried a change of tack. Back in January, two members of the House, Dan and Shaun, decided to turn up one afternoon at the Missionaries of Charity's community in Lambeth to find out what we might usefully do with and for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's Sisters. Since then, a group has gone out each week on a Monday night to help the Sisters with their 'soup run' to Spitalfields and Victoria, taking tea, soup, sandwiches, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, biscuits, clothes and conversation to those who feel in need of them. (And dozens upon dozens, in one of the world's richest cities, sadly do).

All of which is a preamble to noting the sad fact that Westminster council is currently proposing both a) to ban rough sleeping in a large area around Victoria; and b) to outlaw giving out free refreshments there too. This would, of course, criminalize the wonderful work which the MCs - and a large number of other groups - are doing there (and with which we, in our meagre and inadequate way, are privileged to help). It would also, more importantly, further displace the large number of vulnerable people for whom Victoria is something like a 'home'. All in all, it sounds a terrible idea - and one which I'll no doubt be writing more about in due course.

But until then, I'll leave you with today's Evening Standard's article on the controversy. Two members of the community, along with a further friend of the house, were out helping the Sisters last night, when the Standard's journalist came to visit - and one of them, Dennis, was interviewed.

Sometimes, I have to admit, I'm very proud of our students.

Full House

The major news of the last few months is that the House is now full for this year. So, as originally intended, the community is now eight strong. As you would expect, with new people joining it takes a while for everyone to adapt (and rearrange who has which shelf in the fridge), but we seem now to have settled back down into our usual routine.

Workwise, everyone is (and should be) busier than last semester - especially our two third year students - and it's been more difficult to find times properly to come together as a whole community every week. But community nights on Thursday are continuing nonetheless (with prayer, scripture sharing and a communal meal) - as also are morning prayer (for those who are up) and evening prayer (for those who are in) every week day.

Lent will, of course, soon be upon us. We've nothing yet planned to rival our series of Advent talks in December, but there'll be plenty going in the chaplaincy, so we'll not go short of spiritual sustenance.

While things have been much quieter at the House this semester in terms of 'events' (one birthday party excepted), we've not been wholly idle of an evening... on which, more later!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Benedict XVI (Gingerbread) House

Take one off-duty musicologist...

...add some freshly baked slabs of gingerbread... well as lots of sweets...

...Leave for three hours, and you end up with...

...a charmingly ramshackle gingerbread house!

And somehow, mince pies - a batch to eat now, a batch to freeze for Thursday - were also magicked up at the same time.

A toast to this semester

I'm typing this in the House kitchen, as early preparations for this Thursday's House Christmas dinner are underway (photos to follow). The dinner will just be for the (now 7-strong) community itself. On Wednesday evening, however, there'll also be a Christmas party - for all our friends here in the college - following our final advent talk.

In the relative lull between mince pies going into the oven, and us starting work on assembling and decorating our gingerbread house, it seems an opportune time to look back on some of the House highlights of the past three and a half months. This seems particularly fitting, given that we've just bottled up seventeen bottles of ale as gifts for (in fact, just a small selection of) our friends and benefactors.

Of course, the most important aspects of community life here aren't the ones that get blogged about. Weekdays' lauds and vespers (more and more parts of which are now being sung, sincerely albeit sometimes falteringly); chats around the dinner table, or - more often - in front of the television (the Apprentice being a big House draw); cooking for each other, whether impromptuly (yes, that is a real word) or on a designated 'community' night (which we try to have once a week, though don't always manage due to everyone's different commitments). Things aren't always fun and games, naturally. But our 'joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties' are shared - and, it has to be said, so far we've had rather more of the former than we have of the latter.

Most of the other 'events' that have happened here have been mentioned previously: our tea party in celebration of the Papal Visit, Advent talks, the various Frassati Masses and goings-on, baking for Wells for India, etc. Things which, for no particular reason, failed to be blogged include a talk on science and religion from a priest in the Faith Movement, two of the girls making a snowmanblob (called Dave), various 'eventful' evenings following talks or dinners across the road, and a series of five three-course dinners for (in theory, though not in practice) all the fresher Theology and Religious Studies students at St Mary's.

All in all, not a bad first semester's life and work at Benedict XVI House!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Ale, Holy Queen!

Benny House's homemade cakes, bread, jams and chutneys have previously been mentioned here. For the past couple of weeks though we've been brewing up something even more exciting...

Our homemade beer - Ale, Holy Queen! (would you believe that Ale Mary was already taken?) - will be formally launched after the final advent talk next Wednesday. But in order to toast Our Lady's immaculate conception, we've decided to have a sneak preview this evening.

I can't say that it fully lives up to its name, but it's really rather nice.

(I'll let you know tomorrow morning how well 'Immaculate Mary' fares as a Student Prince-style drinking song...)

'The only solution is love and that love comes with community'

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! (It is also, of course, the college's feast day. Hopefully, I'll get chance to post more later on - depending on how late I get back from the chaplaincy festivities this evening...)

Belatedly as ever...

The first of the Benedict XVI House advent talks was held last Wednesday. Susan Clarkson of St Francis House, the Oxford Catholic Worker, came to speak to us on the subject of 'Practising the Works of Mercy, Resisting the Works of War' - both of which Susan, in common with other Catholic Workers, does in plenty.

The talk was accompanied by tea and cake, and followed by watching a fairly recent, excellent documentary on Dorothy Day: Don't Call Me a Saint. It's just under an hour long, and comes thoroughly recommended.

The 113th anniversary of Dorothy Day's birth was remarked upon a month ago. Between then and now, there was also the 30th anniversary of her death. Pleasingly, this was widely marked in print and online, including fine articles in both the Tablet and the Catholic Herald, and two excellent blog posts over at Fr Stephen Wang's Bridges and Tangents (here and here).

Don't Call Me a Saint? Sorry Dorothy, but we already do...