For three hundred years, St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square has been known as ‘The Church of the Open Door’; with their doors locked by Government mandate, they’re finding new ways to provide support and provide sanctuary to those who need it most.
There’s always been terrible poverty and hardship in our midst. But the realities of being homeless in a pandemic are debilitating in ways we don’t think to consider: no access to drinking water or toilets, no charging points or no phones at all. Rev. Richard Carter discovered this for himself on the first weekend after lockdown. For parishioners there was no safety from exposure to the virus, none of the regular services to connect with, nobody to offer them their change for food or to buy them a coffee. Over the last six weeks, members of the congregation have been cut off from their networks and all those trying to reach out to help. The parishioners stood on the steps of the vestry, calling for the Reverend to help.
Welcoming over a million visitors in recent years, now their events, shop and café are empty and a huge portion of the income that normally finances the work has disappeared. To make up this shortfall, St Martin-in-the-Fields has launched an emergency appeal: ‘Keep Our Doors Open’. Since Wednesday 8th April, the fund has provided 450 emergency grants worth £147,000 across the UK, supporting homeless and vulnerable people through the Covid-19 crisis. These grants are crucial. They can help people into housing to safely self-isolate, they ensure they can receive basic essentials or they can help someone buy a phone or tablet, technology that many of us are relying on when so many face-to-face services have ceased during lockdown.
St Martin-in-the-Fields have rapidly expanded their phoneline service to support the homeless and those in danger of being evicted across the UK. In London they are working with charity partners to deliver hundreds of meals a day to hostels and hotels where homeless people are currently being housed. In the spirit of their Open Door policy, Rev. Richard Carter and St Martin-in-the-Fields are also offering a takeaway lunch from the steps of the vestry every Sunday. For their International Group who are still living on the streets, this is an opportunity to help provide food but also to maintain lines of communication and support. Rev. Richard, his team of volunteers and their partners at The Connection have taken up the challenge to feed, equip, and house all they can, starting with the most vulnerable.
Questionnaires to find out what support was needed went out to their network of frontline workers who support people living on the streets and those in danger of joining them there. Receiving over a thousand, sometimes surprising, answers was a reminder of how vital it is to listen first then respond.
Communicating online has provided an invaluable chance to learn about how people are coping. The actual doors of St Martin-in-the-Fields may be closed, but the virtual ones are open 24/7.
Everywhere people have been trying to reach out to provide extraordinary new levels of experience, from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s transmitting from his kitchen to St Martin-in-the-Fields’ live-streaming their religious services to tens of thousands on Facebook. Their choral scholars have even been busy creating ‘Choral Casts’ podcasts to share shimmering performances alongside stories behind some of the most loved pieces of Christian choral music.
In this time of great uncertainty, suffering and loss, it is music that touches the greatest numbers of people. The morning after lockdown Director of Music, Dr Andrew Earis, began to help produce, record and share great pieces of sacred music with the church and the BBC to lift hearts across the world.
Prayers, sermons, bible readings, and songs have guided many through times of great suffering. St Martin-in-the-Fields is still there over the airwaves and internet to help sustain those in isolation, and to comfort the sick and dying when families cannot be with them.
This is a particularly tough time for those who are disheartened, anxious, sick or homeless across the county. St Martin-in-the-Fields are working in ways old and new to try and help.