Updated: Oct 17, 2019
As I write, at 11:30am on this Thursday morning of World Homelessness Day 2019, I know that in just a couple of hours’ time Viv, Sue, Duncan and Lauren will be pitching up at Mustard Seed Church on Edinburgh’s Easter Road to prepare the meal for this evening’s Soul Food. Paul will be getting ready to cycle all the way from his B&B that is situated 6 miles out of the city, and along with Jack, Karen and John will make up the highly efficient team that will set up the tables and place settings, brew the coffee and turn the church into a banqueting room ready to welcome the 70 + folk who will come for their dinner.
At 5pm the rest of this evening’s volunteers will arrive for a team meeting where we make sure that everyone knows what their role is for the evening and where the values -of welcome, generosity, kindness, respect, safety, support and collaboration that Soul Food holds - are re-iterated. Many of the team are dealing with the grim realities of homelessness.
For all of us, who have the privilege of hosting this meal, Soul Food is the highlight of our week.
The people who will walk through the church doors, at 5:30pm and take their place at the tables, come from across the city. At least three quarters of folk are experiencing homelessness, whether rough sleeping, using Bethany Christian Trust’s night shelter, sofa surfing, being housed in the one of the B & B’s across the city or in temporary accommodation waiting for a permanent home. Others are struggling to make ends meet on benefits that never seem to quite go far enough or some are simply lonely and really appreciate the company a meal at Soul Food offers.
Natalie, a young mum who is living in temporary accommodation with her baby boy, has been coming along to Soul Food for a year now and is a key part of it and Mustard Seed’s community. Chatting to Natalie this morning, I asked her if being part of Soul Food had made a difference to her life. Animatedly she replied:
“It has made an incredible difference. Suddenly, I have good people around me that I haven’t had before. I feel like I have another family. I feel protected and safe and have been fed really well! I have been helped with stuff I never thought I would get help with. I feel like a better person in myself. I have even discovered faith. There is so much that I have now done: a CAP life skills course, been away on holiday for the weekend, been invited to people’s homes for meals and to weddings. I feel like a normal person. Really welcomed. There is so much more that I could say. I actually am a bit lost for words…”
In September, Soul Food Edinburgh reached the grand old age of ONE! We now have three Soul Food meals across churches in the city and a fourth – for families experiencing homelessness – opening in December. There is also a Soul Food meal operating in Bristol at B&A Church on Gloucester Road.
Our primary focus in the centre of Edinburgh has been to encourage churches to help support folk who are homeless in the city. Mustard Seed Edinburgh – a church community on Easter Road who established and run Soul Food Edinburgh – have given a £1,000 gift to each of the new meals, to help get them started. The New Year will see further meals opening across the city. Not all the meals will focus on homelessness, but all meals will operate in communities where food poverty, along with other injustices, are a reality.
We are so thankful for the churches who have agreed to host Soul Food meals. We know that it is a big commitment and it requires individuals to take on new rhythms to their lives. To host a meal week in, week out, that communities can rely on, is a costly thing. But it is also the sort of thing we feel that should come naturally to the church.
Believing that hospitality is at the very centre of what it is to be a Christian, Soul Food has always been more than just a meal. It is a declaration that the church cares deeply about the fact that people in our communities and neighbourhoods are hungry and it is a statement of intent to engage in any way possible in this issue of grave injustice. With an invitation to dinner, the church that hosts a Soul Food meal, wishes to offer friendship and solidarity to those who feel themselves pushed to the edges of society. A Soul Food meal is a promise to walk alongside our neighbours in the situations that they are experiencing. Soul Food is not a service provider, it is simply the church being church, loving its neighbour with generosity, compassion and commitment. In the same way, that we believe that each one of us is loved by God - the one who sets a table for us all.
We are so grateful to those of you who have given financially this past year to help us get Soul Food Edinburgh up and running. It has enabled us to build a website, support individual meals, to buy vital things such as coats and sleeping bags, and to give our time to working with churches as they begin the journey of establishing Soul Food meals. Soul Food is a model that we want to give away freely and your money has helped us to do that. As we enter our second year, we would like to be able to develop Soul Food further and we wondered if you would help us to do that? Would you become a Soul Foodie?
We are looking – initially – for 200 people to give £10 a month. (If you can afford to give more – fabulous!). This money would mean that we could continue to help support Soul Food meals already in existence and would help initiate more. It would mean that we could employ someone to lead Soul Food Edinburgh and continue the training and practical support that we offer. If this would be something you could do, please visit our website here.
As I finish writing, (two hours after I began!) to the sound of onions sizzling in today’s Soul Food kitchen, I am reminded of the words of Murphy Davis of Open Door: “Without supper, without love, without table companionship, justice can become a programme that we do to other people.” Soul Food is not a programme. It is not 'done' to anyone. It is a community meal, an invitation and a promise, a ripple of resistance that declares a desire to step into the stories of injustice and inequality that our city holds. It’s a story of loving our neighbour and our city.
It’s a table that we would love you to pull a chair up to, there is so much room...