By Urzula Glienecke
On a hill in the city of Edinburgh stands a beautiful, historic church: the Greyfriars Kirk. Just down the hill is its seemingly humbler sister: the Grassmarket Community Project. Humble it might be, but it holds a golden heart.
A friend was recently complaining about his 'wayward' son. He said he wondered about taking him 'somewhere like the Grassmarket Project', to 'show him where things could end up'. That stopped me in my tracks. To see the Project as a deterrent example!
In fact it is exactly the opposite: the people we do not expect to 'enter the kingdom of God' are those in whom God is present and acting – the very foretaste of the kingdom of God.
Yes, many people who come to the Project have addiction issues. Some have had a brush with the law sometime in their lives. Others live with long-term illness or recover after a stroke. Many are foreigners in the country. Many struggle with mental health problems, many are poor and live on benefits.
But it is one of the most wonderful places I have experienced. People care for and about each other and their environment. Nobody is judged for what they cannot do. Everybody is supported and welcome. People find belonging after long isolation. People learn new skills that they can use in work life or just do things for fun. People come together to eat, to celebrate and to become a community.
Last year we prepared a play comprised of each person telling a story. One man had received a job interview at last, but unfortunately it was at the same time as his hostel's mandatory health check. Because he was not present during the health check, he lost the room and landed on the streets again – and that at Christmas time! But his story ended in kindness: he was welcomed into people's homes.
This year we planted a fruit orchard in the Kirkyard, including the Peace Tree, planted with the Sikh community.
Recently, a group of six from the Project went to Zambia to help to build a school for girls in a remote, rural area. They did sleep-outs and other fundraising and gathered the money for the trip themselves. Some had never been outside Scotland, some had never been outside Edinburgh. Some struggled with addictions, some with mental health issues. But they did it! And it changed their lives. They had thought they were poor and disadvantaged. Now they saw that having running water is a privilege, that they had so much – enough to live well.
But best of all, they saw that they can do something and be cherished and welcomed by people, be wanted and be equal.
Urzula Glienecke, PhD, is a Latvian theologian, artist and activist living in Scotland. Urzula is a Member of the Iona Community. She is passionate about social justice, the environment and empowering people at the grassroots level. For more info about the Grassmarket Community Project, visit their website here.
This piece was first published in The Adventure Is Beginning (Wild Goose Publishing) and has been republished here with the author's permission.