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“More soup, your Grace?”

The Brighton Oratory has been assisting with the provision of food and clothing in partnership with the Salvation Army at Brighton Congress Hall for the past year. Having already played an active role in recruiting and coordinating volunteers and donations of clothing and personal hygiene items from local churches, for the past three weeks His Grace, Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJV has also been cooking!

His Grace has been preparing and cooking a variety of meals for nearly a hundred drop-in visitors every Wednesday with a small but dedicated team of volunteers. Msgr Lloyd put his past skills in the leisure and hospitality industry to good use when the regular Chef had to leave the post at short notice. Visitors to the dropin receive a three free course meal consisting of soup and/or salad, a hearty main course and a dessert. The food is provided by FoodShare Brighton and topped up as and when by donations made to the Salvation Army.

The visitors to the dropin range from the truly homeless sleeping rough, squatters and recovering addicts from bedsits through more recently to people who have lost job and home due to the recession and financial crisis. An interesting ecclectic mix of social and professional demographics are represented amongst the visitors, from a few Eastern European immigrants who became stranded after the economic downturn through a wide range of former professional artists, musicians, carpenters and teachers.

Originally begun by two previous Salvation Army commanding officers (posted to Dubai last January), the dropin has been running for two years and Msgr Lloyd hopes when the new commanding officers arrive, to develop the project further in conjunction with other local churches and statutory services. Already he has introduced barbers for free haircuts and hand masseurs to the visitors who appreciate the welcoming hospitality and “safe” space the volunteers strive hard to provide. Some of the dropin visitors even attended the Archbishop’s Inauguration as Metropolitan and as one of them said, “I bet there’s not many homeless people can say they had lunch cooked by a bishop!”

The Brighton Oratory hires one of the halls from the Salvation Army as a Mass centre for its Sussex based mission which provided the opportunity for the two churches to work together. Last Christmas Day, following their respective morning services, the two churches provided Christmas Lunch for elderly people living alone and homeless dropin regulars, some of whom attended the preceding services. “It was the first time I’d been to a Latin Mass since I left Ireland as a boy” said one of the regular dropin visitors, “it was beautiful, I cried.” Through their contacts the two churches identified elderly people living alone and coordinated transport via minibuses to get to and from the centre on Christmas Day. Msgr Lloyd was invited to bless parcels of food and presents for poor families before being distributed by the Salvation Army.

Many are amazed at the way in which two churches of such different traditions doctrinally are able to work together, but both the Salvation Army officers and Msgr Lloyd emphasise the joint charge to live out charity which is at the heart of the Gospel. When asked if it was appropriate for an Archbishop to be cooking and washing up, His Grace replied

“I want to be able to answer ‘I was there’ when Christ asks me, “Where were you when I was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison” when I face the Judgement. Sacred Ministers are called to be “servants of the servants of God” after that favoured title of St Gregory the Great, what better than way this is there to serve Christ than in the poor and outcasts of our society?”

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