Linda Maslen, co-leader, Saturday Gathering: The food and support drop-in started here about five years ago and we've given out now about 30,000 food parcels in the time and every week we have about 50 volunteers come along. One of the things that we realised was that we really didn't just want to give food; we wanted to be able to offer support to people and we also wanted to be able to share our hearts for the gospel with people so we felt that we should introduce prayer and we kicked off a prayer team and, as soon as we started to pray for people, we found that God answered the prayers.
One of the challenges that we face with our people is that they have had very chaotic backgrounds and that when things go wrong, quite often they revert. So, particularly alcoholism and drug addiction, they may have been clear of that for a while but actually when something bad happens their natural reaction is to either to run away from it or to actually go back to the security that they'd had before. And what we needed to teach them was how to actually turn to Jesus in those times and turn to the community, the Christian community, that was supporting them.
So, finally, just over 18 months ago; in fact nearly two years ago now, three of us had what we felt was some kind of vision from God which – when we put it together – became Saturday Gathering. And we kind of expected that it might fizzle out because, again, it was a Saturday night and lots of people struggle with giving up time on a Saturday night and we didn't know whether that would be a time which would be appropriate or inappropriate for our community. We knew that for those of them who were still drinking then it probably would be inappropriate.
It didn't fizzle, it continued to grow, it continued to develop. We started with about half a dozen people; we now would have between about 50 and 60 on a Saturday night and, you know, people just come and really enjoy the community and the sense of being part of a family that is Saturday Gathering, which is just beautiful. We'd not been meeting all that long, probably a couple of months, and I heard somebody pick up their mobile phone. They said to the person on the other end, 'I can't speak to you just now 'cos I'm at church.' And that really concerned me because we're not keen to become a church in our own right, really for fear that we might start to cut off the support that we'd been getting from other churches. But what did become apparent and we really knew it, the leadership group, right from the beginning was that we were church because we were members of Christ's body coming together and we were in fellowship together.
As we were trying to work out what God was doing here, one of the things that we did think about was, 'Were we just a stepping stone from here into another church?' and, as we got to know our people better, and the new brothers and sisters that God was bringing to us and as we started to get to know our local ministers better, we realised that that probably wasn't the sensible thing for us to think of ourselves as because there will be quite a number of people who come to Saturday Gathering who will never make it into another church or another fellowship. They would just find it too difficult and too complex and, for some of them, it might take months and years for them to get to any kind of level of stability. They may never get there but they do know that whenever they need us, they can turn up at the door here and they will always be welcomed in with a hug and a smile, and usually some food as well.
Female voice 1: Before I started coming to Saturday Gathering I couldn't even come out of my house because of crowds; I was that terrified. I was terrified of men, because of domestic violence, and it's helped me to be comfortable around crowds again and not just assume that people are going to judge me because of what I've been through but that people actually do understand.
Male voice 1: When I first started coming to food bank, to say I was a broken man would be an understatement. I'd recently lost my partner, left me bringing up four children, and a friend said to me that – I were [sic] drinking, dabbling in drugs – he said that won't make you happy but Jesus'll make you happy. I come to Saturday Gathering where I find time of peace and people that basically, good people that are down on their luck.
Female voice 2: I came here and they made me feel special without wanting money or sex or anything from me; they just wanted to know me for me. The music's lively, they don't care whether you jump around and sing and dance – and you can get involved and they don't care whether you're alcoholics or drug addicts. They don't care who comes through the door as long as…they're here to make you feel welcome and they do a fantastic job of it and I'm proud to be part of this family.
Linda Maslen: As we were using one of the DVDs one week, we were talking about Jesus and Jesus's baptism. And our people started to say, 'Well. Can't we be baptised too?' And of course the answer to that was, well, yes they could. And, again, that was part of our formation 'cos it made us really think about, well, what are we baptising people into in this kind of environment? And Bishop Tony [Bishop of Pontefract, Tony Robinson] was incredibly helpful to us and we decided that what we would do is we'd baptise and we'd confirm. So, when we put out the request here to say how many people had come to know Jesus and were wanting now to make a public declaration that they were going to follow him for the rest of their lives; we had 19 people who said that they wanted to be a part of that.
Bishop Tony: [Therefore I ask, do you turn to Jesus?]
Linda Maslen: It was the most glorious of occasions. It was incredibly chaotic, we didn't quite know on the day how many people were going to turn up or not turn up but they'd all invited friends or family and we'd got quite a number of people from different churches around and about the area who were really quite excited about what was going on and what was happening so the whole place was absolutely full and absolutely buzzing.
We've seen people move from homelessness into homes, first of all perhaps into a Christian community that we run but then from the Christian community out into rented accommodation and then we've also started to see people now moving into the workplace and being able to hold down jobs so when you see somebody who's gone on that journey from a place of being homeless, maybe being totally addicted, being totally chaotic to then see them move, perhaps through volunteering…and a lot of our volunteers, both at Saturday Gathering and here, in the drop-in, come from our guest community and our family community and learning to be a volunteer helps them then step along the way.
We've just done a whole pile of food hygiene courses and we're doing first aid courses which our people are just delighted with because, of course, that means they can put those on their CVs. And when you go along to the prize-givings and just see people with great pride taking these certificates, it just makes it all incredibly worthwhile.
A recent development that's come out of our food and support drop-in has been our Family Gathering and we believe that that's going to be another fresh expression of church over time. They still get their food parcels and we make sure they get all that they need but also we provide a much more fun time for the children so today we had the bus there and that's run by our local Methodists, and the kids can go on and they can play games on the computer and they can do craft activities but also at the heart of that is Jesus. And so, as we're going through the seasons, at the moment we're starting to walk through what the stories of Jesus are and we believe that, over time, that will become a worshipping community in its own right.
I guess if I could encourage people to get involved, this kind of sharp end is just an amazing place to be. It has its pitfalls, it has its real downsides but the blessings that are poured out are just amazing. As we step out into those places that God's asked us to move to; when we've seen where he's beginning to move and responded to that move; then he just blesses that abundantly. And I would just encourage you to get involved and to join in.