Beggar Man

Well, another tale that emanates from a church night once more. It seems to be becoming something of a theme. I was rather taken by a message in the weekly Sunday Message bulletin in Mass last evening at Saint Barnabas Cathedral in Nottingham. It read as follows:

“We have got used to people begging around the Cathedral. How do we deal with them?

This is our advice. It is far too easy to give money. The Clergy never give money. We or the sisters, will direct people to Emmanuel House, (local shelter supported by the Cathedral) arrange transport, give food or drink, advise about shelter, light a candle or pray for them, or just listen to their problems. Giving money may subsidise a serious addiction and encourages them to return to the Church to pester others.

A look at the Gospels will confirm that Jesus gave time, energy, advice, food, healing and much more: but he never gave money!

I have to say this is another issue I’ve wrestled with for a long time, not just in the context of people begging outside the Cathedral but all over the city. Currently, to my eyes, Nottingham seems almost overrun by people begging with individuals stationed at practically every cashpoint, outside the major stores and just generally roaming the streets. The problem appears of almost epidemic proportions these days and many complain about the situation. At certain periods it seems almost impossible to walk any distance in the city without being accosted, often several times.

I do feel for these people – yes even those with their various addictions, for what are we if we can’t show some compassion with those in such a miserable and lost state? At the same time I know that some feel intimidated by their presence and occasionally aggressive attitude. More worrying are the ‘organised’ groups of beggars I have seen operating, on some occasions at the Cathedral but more often elsewhere in the city. Perhaps not an organised racket as such but certainly there seems more than an air of cynicism about them.

To return to Saint Barnabas for a moment, every single week there are people begging at both entrances of the building, before and after Mass. It was always a slight trial for me personally and judging by the Cathedral’s message, has been for others too. I don’t want to feel that I’m some hypocritical and uncaring individual that who, once setting foot outside of Mass, would ignore those who appear to be in dire need. There lies the dilemma, one understands that the people begging are in some ways playing on ones conscience but at the same time ones feel the need to help in some way. It is very hard dealing with a pleading face immediately after the happy and refreshing time we have hopefully had inside the church. Dare I say it can almost spoil the moment and experience of something that is very personal.

I am encouraged by the guidance offered in the Sunday Message. What’s more I believe it’s really good advice for us all generally, not just those of faith. That’s why I share it here. I’d be really interested to hear other’s attitudes to this problem?

16 thoughts on “Beggar Man”

  1. Stu:)
    thanks for bringing this up because I neglected to say that I never give money to the homeless. To give money is more about making US feel better. It has very little to do with real charity.

    That is why in each Parish it may be an idea to have a person or persons who know and are in contact with different agencies which can help the homeless, rather than simply walk past them.

    The biggest problem and most frustrating was the fact that many of the homeless men I worked among were mentally unbalanced but the governments in their ‘wisdom’ shut the mental hospitals down and basically through these poor people on the streets.

    Mental hospitals no longer need to be thought of as long white corridors with Nurse Ratcheds waiting at the end..They can be made to be cheerful, cosy and homey where the mentally unstable can come and go as they please but at least they would have a roof over their heads.

    But, as one person said, ‘if they built a mental hospital next to my house, I’d move!’ Hence most Governments do nothing. Very frustrating.

    Whenever I come across a homeless gentlemen or lady I make the time to go and buy them food and drinks and then bring it back to them. I never give money. Wise words, once again thanks Stu:).

    Peace to you:)


  2. Hi again Marie.

    Thanks for your interesting comments. 🙂

    I enjoy very much the way that my own church is very involved with disadvantaged people both near and far. During Father Ephraim’s address in Mass last week, amongst others things he talked of were intiatives in helping build a hospital in his home town in Nigeria before moving on to schemes to assist the local Emmanuel House homeless shelter but a mile from the Cathedral.

    This type of disparate help very much satisfies and covers all bases for me. I enjoy that balance.

    I am very interested in your thoughts regarding attitudes and reactions towards both the homeless and individuals such as the drunken man near the Cathedral I mentioned. Along with the message from the Saint Barnabas Cathedral clergy, your thoughts have helped me consider my own a lot more clearly so thank you!

    It’s so difficult for the public nowadays. We are all regaled with tales of professional begging gangs being transported into the city from outlying areas, and that certainly is another factor that preys on people’s minds. Yours and my own church’s similar guidance would help all in my view.

    One other point. One thing I always try to do is actually verbally acknowledge those asking for money, or perhaps selling ‘The Big Issue’ newspaper (of which there are many). That takes no effort at all. I always try to imagine what it must be like to be marginalised from society, with no one speaking to you. That could be more tortuous than most things I think.

    God bless, Marie. Keep up the good work on your brilliant site. 🙂


  3. In the past I have given money at times. It depends really-I’m not sure on what. Once there was a begger who spent a lot of time around the church I used to attend. It was winter and it was freezing and he was asking for money. I gave him some with instructions to buy some gloves because he was so cold. To be honest I assumed he would buy booze. But the next morning as I came out of Mass there he was all excited because he had a new pair of gloves.
    I still tend to go with a gut instinct on how I should respond-and it isn’t always with money.

    The business of shutting down mental health places goes on. I have horror stories on that from my psychi nurse days.

  4. It is difficult at times, particularly when it’s the same face or two that you see every week, hence my original dilemma I suppose.

    I’m glad that chap didn’t let you down and bought some gloves with the cash!

  5. Give them a fiver and invite them to enjoy a couple of cans of the purple tin and a bag of glue on you.

    I jest, obviously but see how much it’s appreciated if you offer them food or a friendly ear. I don’t have an answer to the various problems but I don’t think there’s much wrong with giving a bit of cash. That said, I make a point of only giving to homeless who don’t ask 😉

  6. Hello Stu:)
    sorry for the delay in replying. I just read this piece on another blog today & thought you may like to read it too. Here is the link:

    I hope to write a piece on the homeless later this week on my own blog. You have inspired me to pray about this issue and perhaps shed some light on what to do as Christians when it comes to the homeless. Thankyou for inspiring me:).

    Peace to you & God bless:)


  7. Rich

    “The old purple tin” – that wouldn’t be charity, more like torture!


    What a wonderful and humbling story! Thank you for sharing. I’ll look forward to reading your piece on the subject. That will be well worth waiting for.

    Stu 🙂

  8. Hello 🙂

    I hope you dont mind but I linked to your piece here. I have written part one in my series on the homeless which was inspired by your post and on Half a Kingdom. It is a difficult topic in that there are no easy answers…Thankyou for inspiring me to write about them.

    Peace to you always,

    Marie 🙂

  9. Not at all, Marie. I guess it feels nice to have provoked some thoughts as I suppose that’s what we mostly like to do in writing these things. Interested to hear your views.

  10. How about gift certificates for food? When I worked in adult community corrections we handed out food and bus coupons for emergency situations. Keeping a business card with information on where to find help with rehab/work/food/shelter is good as well. You can get free ones printed up at Vista print(online). I always kept a list to hand out. Prayer cards or other Christian literature that feed their souls the bread of life is helpful as well.

  11. Hi Alexandra

    Thanks. They sounds like yet more useful solutions. It just shows how many different ways there are to deal with this issue.

    One thing that every answer seems to have is simply not to ignore such folk. I guess that staple thought is a handy one to keep in mind for us all.

  12. Visiting from a View From the Pews link, and have added your Rss feed to my home page!
    Great postings, stu.

    re: panhandlers …here in Boston there are so many that they have a plan to work the intersections and storefronts in shifts! Groups of 2 or 3 switch stations right on time.

    A particular few have plastic saran wrap coated signs identifying them as a ‘mission’…they have started their own enterprise.

    I have told this before, but one gent in particular would receive from me on a regular basis.
    One day , as I pulled up to the light he said he wouldn’t be seeing me for several months as he was going home to the Islands for the winter and would be back when the warm weather kicked in.
    That was several years ago and sure enough….each year he disappears to the Islands and returns.
    Why do I feel guilty when I save a few $$$ to put gas in the car to take a trip to Stockbridge to the Shrine of the Divine Mercy, I have no clue!!!
    But , I continue to give to the one who asks of me. Perhaps he lives in dire poverty over there and here he would not be able to survive the winter..I don’t know.
    Call me a ‘softy’.

  13. Aw, thanks for that Teresa and welcome to you! 🙂

    Interesting to hear your tales from Boston. I understand your feelings about giving to the person who returns to your area. I think for some it makes the dilemma even sharper when you recognise a face or two regularly. Certainly I had this same feeling about one particular chap who sits outside the Cathedral I attend.

  14. I just came across your blog through Marie at View from the Pews.
    I hear your words and prayers and echo them.
    Being a Christian means getting our hands dirty. Living the words we read.
    I have experienced homelessness as a teenager in London. It is soul destroying. The kindest thing to give sometimes is time, a smile, a chat, a bit of oneself. All of which are free.
    God Bless

  15. Hello Suzy

    Welcome to my little corner of the web! 🙂

    Marie’s site is so wonderful isn’t it? So inspirational.

    I have been pleasantly surprised at how much interest there is in this subject. It’s somehow reassuring to know that it’s an issue that many at least consider. I am sure your own experience will have added greatly to your understanding of how destructive homelessness is. I totally agree with the very practical views you present.

    Thank you for your comments.


  16. My thought about this is this, Jesus did not say, “Do a needs assessment.” He said, “Give to everyone who begs from you” (Matthew 5:42) and “Give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:41)

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