Anthony Brown writes on the Clitheroe Christians in Partnership theme for this month.

Listen to God and let Him teach us how to love the most marginalized in society

‘All the different things I’ve done God has guided me. He is the only power that I’ve got’.

Sally Trench said these words in an interview with the Tablet in 2018.

It’s a sad reflection on the modern world that homelessness is increasing. After the war it was our returning soldiers unable to adjust who finished up drinking themselves to death on meths, boot polish and gasoline. These men didn’t last long and homeless World War II veterans disappeared from the streets. Homelessness today is more the result of poverty, addiction and some-times simply circumstance and misfortune.

Recently we have seen a number of destitute and homeless men in Clitheroe. These men aren’t anything like the men Sally Trench knew. We can help these men and by the grace of God that is what we are trying to do in Clitheroe.

But this month’s theme isn’t really about homelessness and it certainly isn’t about homelessness in Clitheroe. It’s about God reaching out to us via inspirational people, and learning that if we can’t emulate those people we can at least sup-port them in some small way, perhaps a little hands-on help or donations and prayer.

In the 1960s Sally Trench was just a young girl mixing and caring for destitute people on the streets of London. Her first book Bury Me in My Boots was published in 1967. The book tells how Sally had spent the previous five years sleeping rough with some of the most marginalized people in the world. It is a tale of lived-out faith. “I was living in this world on the bomb-sites,” she recalls, “with the rats, and the dossers. That is what I was there for, to help them die when they needed to die, or to keep them alive when they needed to keep alive.” As one of them neared his end he said; “bury me in my boots, Sally”. Sometimes without sleep or without food for days she lived amongst those men, experienced what they experienced, and as someone who felt a failure and a reject too, she identified with them.

Sally was a difficult kid from an early age. She came from an upper middle class family and was sent off to a Roman Catholic boarding school at the age of five. She was expelled when she was fifteen. A year or so later, walking across London at about 11:30 pm she counted eighty-seven dirty, drunk, flea-ridden old men lying on the benches, under the benches, newspaper their mat-tress and newspaper their cover. Her initial reaction of disgust and evasion turned to something quite different – a recollection of her Christian roots and a realization of what that meant. She turned back. In her pearls and evening dress she sat between two of the dirtiest men. Repelled by the smell of gasoline and urine and nausea but recognizing these people were utterly homeless, utterly unwanted, un-cared for, and nowhere to go, she went home and prayed. She thanked

God for her parents and her home and made a pledge that she would do something about these people because God had made her aware of them.

She got a job and spent her income on food, coffee, cigarettes, clothing, and started a night vigil at two o’clock every morning. Climbing down the drainpipe she got on her bicycle and cycled six miles across London. She gave out the food, the coffee, the cigarettes, and the blankets and at three o’clock she returned home and went to bed again. She did this for a year. No one knew.

At the end of that year she walked out of her home after a row with her father and didn’t return and it was then that she spent five years sleeping rough with the men. She wrote Bury me in my Boots on toilet paper with pens provided by the station master at Waterloo Station and kept what she wrote in Left Luggage.

One day, she encountered a young woman who had used a knitting needle to try to abort her pregnancy and was bleeding to death. She summoned a local priest to give her the last rites. It was the start of a friendship with the Jesuit Hugh Thwaites that would inspire him to retrieve the diary from Left Luggage, type it up and send it to a publisher friend.

At the age of 22 she was interviewed by Studs Terkel. With her public school education and sophisticated voice, she doesn’t sound a failure or a reject; she sounds affected, naïve, and over confident. Was living with the Meths Men just a teenage rebellion and a short phase in her life? According to an article in The Tablet written in 2018, absolutely not. Sally prefers to be called Sparky and it is that spark that is the most obvious outward thread that connects the work she described in Bury Me in My Boots, and her subsequent missions. First, she ran a successful referral school for 700 “delinquent children” in London. Next, in the 1990s, she rescued children from the civil war in Bosnia and gave them a home in Britain. Until April 2017, she spent a decade living in the Western Cape in South Africa working with 7,000 children in squatter camps.

All these ventures came under the auspices of Project Spark, the charity she established with the royalties from her first book. Her remarkable life goes back to a pact with God on her seventh birthday when, troubled about the Catholic convent teaching on mortal sin, she describes a sort of revelation: “I just felt this sort of amazing feeling of a voice, saying, ‘Hey, you’re not in mortal sin, let’s make a pact.’ And so I made this pact with God. I said, ‘You died for me, so I will live for you,’ and God said, ‘That’s a stunning pact. I agree with that one.’ And that was it. I’ve stayed with Him forever. We are a team. I can do nothing without Him.”

There is a message here for all of us. Whenever we are reminded of how little will power we seem to have and reflect on the impossible things that remarkable people do, let’s think of those words of Sally Trench and pray that we will hear God’s personal message to us, whatever that might be.

PRAYER

Let us pray for love, that we can put base emotions out of our hearts and learn to love even those who are the most difficult to love.

Let us try and love as Jesus loves for whoever Jesus loves, we must, in the best way we can, learn to love them too.

Let us pray that, with love, God will also give us the strength to act.

And let us pray that little by little we can gain in strength to do more and eventually perhaps do what for the moment seems impossible.

linda

About Linda Ainsworth

Pearl's a singer, but Linda's a writer, And they say that she once won a competition And had a short story broadcast on Woman's Hour. She helps out at St MM's church on the PCC And with Holy Communion for the Sick and Housebound. She doesn't come from round here.

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