Nine years ago, when I had been vicar of St Mark's for only a few months, one of the congregation pointed out that among our regular visitors on a Sunday were one or two residents of a hostel on Clapham Common, together with their first warden and deputy - Richard Cooper and Gill Smith. So began a growing relationship between church and hostels which has been an integral part and significant feature of the development and growth of this church.
The over-riding feeling about the relationship is that it has been two-way. St. Mark's has been able to supply some encouragement to the work of Stepping Stones, taking part in the prayer support, the team of volunteer 'befrienders', the hostel bible studies and open evenings, and providing trustees and financial advisors and treasurers. Equally significant for the men has been the fact that alongside the care within the homes, the church has provided a community of varied ordinary people, young and old, male and female, single and married, of all types of social, educational and ethnic backgrounds. This has meant a large pool of potential friends to help the residents to integrate back into society after their prison experience- and also to off-load and share some of those experiences. All this, of course, is also in the context of Christian nurture, fellowship, training and worship.
But from the church end of the relationship, those of us who have been involved in Stepping Stones have found that what we have received has been just as great as anything we have given in ministry to the men. When prisoners who have come to Christ during their sentences, and stood for Christ, often steadfastly against great opposition, are then released into ordinary society, they often have high expectations of what Christian commitment is, how fellowship should be real and deep, and how Christian witness should be courageous and steadfast. They may have high standards of Christian service. Sadly, they are sometimes disillusioned when they discover what real churches are like on the outside! And this has a bracing effect on any congregation, tempted as we all are to live comfortable lives little distinguishable from the world around.
It has been a great excitement too to watch a number of the residents of Stepping Stones end up in full-time Christian mission and ministry - even in ordained ministry! The partnership between church and Trust has been a fruitful one both ways. We have seen residents, wardens and church members come and go - but the hostels and the church themselves have remained as stabilising influences touching many people's lives - and our prayer and plan if it continues to be Christ's blessing and will is: "Long may it continue!"
Date updated : 7th June 1997
Webmaster : David Daniel