After being welcomed by Bishop Drainey a group from Streetwise Opera sang a welcome song in multiple languages. The choir was made up mainly of refugees and immigrants who all welcomed us with a chorus in his or her own language. They sang with maximum enthusiasm and clearly enjoyed the result.
After this Lynda addressed the almost full cathedral telling of her experience at Women@theWell and outlining the difficulties the women had trying to exit their chaotic lives. Lynda spoke compassionately and with great conviction telling how everything was stacked against the women who wanted to begin to live a more normal life. It is sad to hear that once caught up in any form of pavement culture the women, without superhuman efforts, were trapped there for life. Lynda illustrated this by using some real-life stories (with names changed) of some of the women who had come to W@W. She went on to say how W@W, by providing the services the women needed, had been able to help some of them to exit prostitution and to find a place to live. These services included a solicitor, a doctor, people who helped with housing and benefit provision, different therapy specialists and basic literacy and numeracy skills. It was a passionate, from the heart presentation such as only one with hands on experience and a love for these women could give.
Following this a young woman gave her story of abuse from a young age and her descent into street life and how, with great difficulty and determination she was able to rise above this and share her story to help others.
Following a packed lunch and time to see everything on display illustrating the work done by agencies around Middlesbrough to help the homeless, immigrants, refugees and trafficked people, Streetwise Opera entertained the congregation to some more music in various languages which was much appreciated.
A liturgical Celebration of the Word led by Bishop Drainey followed this. Lynda gave a reflection on the Gospel reading which was Matthew 28:31 – 46 – the Last Judgement. In the course of this she read a poem called “The Saints next door” about a woman called Mercy, illustrating the qualities of mercy which can be seen in ordinary people who consider and try to help those around them. These are the Saints next door.
Selected members of the congregation brought up symbols of the work they are doing in the diocesan groups and, after a blessing, the service ended.
Lynda carried the day and made us all appreciate better how much we have to be grateful for and some of the little things we all can do to welcome the stranger and be the saint next door.