It was a wet and windy Friday in October and I was in the middle of Birmingham on a mission to buy fabrics at the famous Rag Market. Due to the extensive road works and speed restrictions on the M6 it had been a long drive down from Manchester, and I really needed a pit stop before venturing into the market. But where to go? Costa? Starbuck? There were no cafes or coffee shops in sight. Luckily I had been told by a local to head for the church of St Martin in the Bullring, which has its own cafe that is open daily.
My friend and I entered through the main west doors, and were greeted by a large open space with an immediate sense of calm and tranquility. There was a three-stage indoor water fall, a prayer tree, rows of pews, an impressive east stained glass window, and people. The people were quiet, shuffling about, minding their own business. An official “greeter” welcomed us, told us a bit about the church and directed us to the cafe and the loos.
Once refreshed, we went back into the church and had a closer look around. A couple of the people were clearly doing assigned tasks – tending to the floral displays and tidying yup. Of the others, a few were sitting quietly, one was drying a sleeping bag on a radiator, one was sleeping on a pew – safe in the knowledge that both he and his meagre possessions were safe for a while. Greetings were exchanged, and the sense of peace was maintained. I recalled seeing a sign in the cafe that they operate a “pay it forward” scheme whereby visitors to the cafe can pay extra to enable someone less fortunate to have a hot drink or a small meal. It dawned on me that St Martins is a haven for the homeless. I felt truly humbled. I was witnessing Christianity in action.
You can read more about the work of St Martins in the Bullring here.