Our Christian ethos
We believe that everyone is of equal worth and equally deserving of respect, whatever their background, history or circumstances. We also believe that we are called to help all adults in Chelmsford and the surrounding areas who are suffering through homelessness or similar problems. Where we have the skills and resources to do so, we will strive to meet their genuine needs irrespective of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
This attitude is based on the example given to us by Jesus Christ. Whilst not everyone who serves CHESS is a Christian or a member of another faith, we all do our best to follow the same approach to others.
Christianity and homeless people
For Christians, the Bible shows clearly God's concern for the needy and dispossessed. Through Isaiah, for example, God says:
Isn't this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn't it to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh? - Isaiah 58.6-7 (WEB)
For those of us supporting the homeless, one of the most striking incidents in the New Testament is the encounter between Jesus and the man possessed by the legion of evil spirits (Mark 5.1-20, Luke 8.26-39). The man is homeless, cut off from normal society and living among tombs, just as some homeless people today find themselves sleeping in churchyards. Like some other homeless people, he is violent and suffers from behavioural problems. Like some other homeless people, he engages in self-harm. He has multiple problems, represented by the multitude of evil spirits, and seems to be trapped in his own vicious cycle where one evil spirit is added to another. Our society would not ascribe his condition to evil spirits but would see him as suffering from severe mental illness, just as many other homeless people are.
His encounter with Jesus leaves him in his right mind and able to join society again. Indeed, it seems the only thing Jesus does on crossing Lake Galilee through the storm is to cure this poor sufferer.
During His earthly ministry Jesus Himself had nowhere in this world that He could call "home": The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. (Matthew 8.20 - WEB). One of the favourite Biblical quotations of Christian charities for the homeless is Jesus' picture of Christ saying at the Last Judgement to those He places on His right hand: I was a stranger and you took me in. (Matthew 25.35.)
From the earliest times the Church has shown concern for homeless people and others in need. By the fourth century AD the Church in Antioch was renowned for its care of needy people. In pre-Conquest England hospitality was regarded as a solemn obligation of all Christians; it was their duty to welcome strangers. At their consecrations bishops promised "to show mercy and kindness, for the name of the Lord, to the poor, the stranger and all in want."
In the Middle Ages it was mainly the monasteries that opened their doors to the stranger; the Benedictine monks had a commitment to the poor and the stranger as part of their Rule. It has been said that in Medieval Europe the poor required no state aid because the Church met their physical as well as their spiritual needs.
In this country the Church's aid to homeless people declined with the abolition of the monasteries, to be revived from about the eighteenth century onwards. The Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists and, of course, the Salvation Army, were leaders in this new movement to bring the Church's help to homeless and other marginalised people.
The United Kingdom now has numerous Christian organisations dedicated to helping homeless people. A few years ago we searched the Internet to see how many we could find. We stopped counting when we reached fifty.
As a Christian-based organisation, CHESS is proud to stand in this long tradition. We are glad, too, to work with those of other faiths whom God has also called to have a heart for the homeless.
In the early 1990s Churches Together in Chelmsford ("CTiC") became concerned about the plight of homeless people in the Chelmsford area. Its first response was to organise a soup run; local Christians would prepare soup and take it to distribution points in Chelmsford to hand out to those living on the streets.
Harsh winters then caused further worries. During the winter months local churches would take it in turn to open their halls for a week at a time so homeless people could sleep there at night. Christian volunteers would collect homeless people from the centre of town in the evening and take them to the relevant church hall for the night. Volunteers from each church would look after the residents' comfort and safety.
It became clear that the need for shelter was not restricted to the winter months. CHESS opened its Night Shelter in the middle 1990s. Since the beginning of this century it has acquired an Annexe to the Shelter, move-on houses and a Day Centre.
Today CHESS is still supported by CTiC and handles the CTiC mailings. Many of the churches in Chelmsford and the surrounding area also support CHESS. Most of our trustees and volunteers are drawn from their congregations. Prayers are offered at the Day Centre every Monday morning and at the Night Shelter most Tuesday evenings.