Tag Archives: homelessness

Kamikaze, my death is gain

“Kamikaze, my death is gain
I’ve been marked by my maker
A peculiar display
The high and lofty, they see me as weak
‘Cause I won’t live and die for the power they seek”

The lyrics of DC Talk’s brilliant classic Jesus Freak, which include the above words, were read at the funeral of a homeless man I attended this morning.

Ben was a beautiful man, who spent much of his time and effort the last few years begging and using substances. He also exuded such warm, genuine, gentle love for the people around him, and love for Jesus, his saviour. He always greeted me with affection, called me “brother”, and had time for me.

One time, a few years ago, when I visited him in the B&B accommodation he’d been provided for a short time by Social Services, Ben recited to me the entire lyrics of Jesus Freak. The song meant a lot to him. Apparently he’d found Jesus in prison some years earlier.

When the words were spoken at his funeral, they took on a whole new significance, new poignancy.

Not that I had any doubt before, but now I felt fresh faith, new assurance, that I would see Ben again in the afterlife, and I was touched by the usual mix of sadness, joy and affection that tend to accompany these occasions. 

Ben, you’ll always hold a special place in my heart. See you again one day.


Where there is death, there is also life. (Photo by Roger Nuttall)


Please read my About page to find out more about this blog.

I also have a book! Coming Home for Good is autobiographical, with themes of homelessness, spirituality and identity, and is available on Amazon. Find out more here.


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Houses of the Holy

The following is adapted from a chapter of my book: Coming Home for Good.


“A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure.”  – Charlie Chaplin, describing himself


In Buxted, where I grew up, there were a couple of tramps we saw from time to time. I guess these guys suffered with a mental health disorder, or autism, and didn’t fit neatly into mainstream society. They seemed to wander through, sporadically, like ragged spirits. I’ve no idea why they’d turn up every so often, pacing along the main road, or where they’d been in the meantime. As a child I never thought about it.

Perhaps, like many homeless people today, there was trauma or tragedy behind their lives on the move.

But there’s also an ancient association between itinerancy and spirituality, a travelling lifestyle serving as a useful means for the widespread distribution of a pastor’s, preacher’s or prophet’s message, especially before the days of electronic or even postal communication. A far more personal touch.

Itinerant ministry has been closely linked with religious asceticism, with the practice of travelling light and dependence on divine provision. The idea of moving about with little more than trust in God played a part in my own journey to faith, as I became increasingly curious to test out whether “God”, if he was there, would provide on my travels when I had nothing but the shirt on my back.

Travelling ministry, in Christian traditions, is characterised by intentional dependence on human hospitality, opening the way for those heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul connections in people’s homes, those “being with”s, that are so close to God’s heart for his children.

It’s therefore not surprising that Jesus chose homelessness, not out of any psychological damage or disconnection like me; rather, to forge those human/human, human/divine connections and bring healing to his hosts’ psychological dysfunctionality and physical brokenness.

Nor is it surprising that he sent his disciples out on the same kind of missions to bring healing and wholeness.

Man connecting with man. God connecting with man.

People becoming reconnected with themselves by connecting with God.

Jesus chose homelessness also because he sided with the marginalised, the weak, the despised, the poor, the “sinners”. He chose a lifestyle that would demonstrate solidarity with them.

“The son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”

His mother’s accounts of his homeless birth must have echoed prophetically in his head as he figured out his Father’s calling to live a life of identification with the poor.

And, as he went about his transient ministry, he searched out people, mostly the kinds excluded by the religious authorities of his day, who would take him into their homes to share a meal, benefitting both them and him. He created those mutual “being with”s, not always even waiting to be invited.

Like the time he invited himself to the house of the notorious tax-collector Zaccheus, creating a scene of celebration and forgiveness, much to the disgust of the shocked religious onlookers.

This was the equivalent of Jesus today celebrating with Pride revellers in full view of a crowd of American fundamentalists.

Jesus felt at home in other people’s homes. By moving about and entering the houses of the poor, eating, talking and praying with them, he gave them a sense of acceptance and worth and dignity – bringing healing to bodies, minds, human divisions and disconnections.

In so doing Jesus created a homecoming for both him and them.

I believe he still does that, his life on earth reflecting the eternal God – the itinerant Spirit who searches out hearts to make a home in and turns ordinary people into houses of the holy [1].

I learned early on in this spiritual journey that if we want to see God, a good place to start looking is in the faces of the poor.


I learned early on in this spiritual journey that if we want to see God, a good place to start looking is in the faces of the poor.


The Jewish prophets of long ago, like Solomon and Isaiah, and Christian apostles like James and John, not to mention Jesus himself [2], all concurred that if we mock the poor or ignore their plight, if we fail to take care of the needs of the broken, the rejected, the vulnerable, then we mock or ignore God, and all our worship services are useless.

Just as Isaiah describes those who are homeless, hungry or destitute as our own flesh and blood, Jesus similarly identifies them as his brothers and sisters and even his representatives. Whatever we do to them – help or ignore – we do to him.

As I delved into the Christians’ book, I discovered almost from the start the Bible’s claims that if we want to know God’s identity, then we need to look into the faces of those who are crying out for our help – these houses of the holy – often a silent cry from deep within their hearts, but which can be heard by those with a trace of human empathy and compassion.

There is so much to love about Christian spirituality – that challenges the complacency of the rich and powerful and lends dignity to those who are materially or spiritually poor.


Some questions for reflection:

  • Who would you find it difficult to hang out with? What would happen if you did? What might you learn from them?
  • How easy do you find it to “be” with people?
  • Who might you connect with this week?
  • What place do “the poor” have in your faith, spirituality or worldview?
  • How, if at all, does this kind of spirituality influence your political persuasions?


Coming Home for Good is autobiographical, using examples of personal life experience to discuss “physical, psychological and spiritual homelessness”, and to reflect on identity, individuality, addiction and belonging – which, while especially pertinent in the context of homelessness, are issues that affect everyone.

Coming Home for Good is available on Amazon, at just £8. Find out more here, or click on the picture below:

Coming Home for Good

[1] A nod to Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy (album), Atlantic, 1973.

[2] For example: Proverbs 17:5; Isaiah 58:6-12; James 1:27; Matthew 25:31-46.

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The following is an extract from Coming Home for Good – my autobiographical book on homelessness, spirituality, identity and belonging – describing some of my experiences of an itinerant lifestyle choice as a young man in America:


In ’87, money became scarce. I saw myself as “road-wise” rather than street-wise, and lived for the open road. City life’s never been my thing. But when times were tough, I stayed in the cities to donate plasma for $5-$10 a time (depending on the city), which they’d let you do up to twice a week. The clinic would take a pint of blood, centrifuge it to separate the plasma from the red cells, and infuse the red cells back into the donor’s bloodstream.

I have no idea what the screening procedures were like back then, but all the street people used to do it for a quick buck, and I became one of them.

At one clinic, while I was there, they treated and dressed a really nasty, infected ulcer that had developed on my elbow from a simple graze I’d sustained while messing around with a football in a field with Joel and Mikey in Portland. I found that every little scratch I got – and you tend to get a lot when you’re sleeping rough – became infected. The elbow wound was so bad, I still bear the scar quite visibly 3 decades later.

The same thing happened to two symmetric wounds on my back that originated as simple scratches from the split rings on my metal frame rucksack when I walked or hitched with my shirt off in the southern heat. Two decades later, in a physical assessment class as part of my nurse prescribing course, a medical lecturer demonstrating an examination of my back was trying to guess the cause of my scars and surmised I’d had some kind of thoracic surgery. I took great delight in revealing the real, obscure cause was my distant history of hitch-hiking.

My nutrition – and therefore immunity – was no doubt pretty poor, not to mention hygiene. I was never a proud, image-conscious young man – well, except in my younger punkier days, with my all-black clothes and hair. Showers weren’t necessarily a priority when travelling, although I would find rivers to wash in, and one time discovered I could sneak into a high-class golf club through the back door to use their showers. That was luxury!

Homeless people are generally prone to infections, even if their hygiene is good. Like the rest of the population, many are keen to keep themselves clean and tidy, while others tend to let themselves go if their lives and energy are consumed by chasing the next beer or bag of heroin, or their minds distracted by psychotic illness or depression.

Many have health conditions like hepatitis that affect their immunity, which in turn may also be compromised by poor nutrition.

When I was travelling, my weight dropped to about a stone lighter than for most of my young adult life – giving me a BMI of 18 (in other words, quite underweight) – and about 2.5 stone lighter than my current (healthy) weight.

For all these reasons, homeless people have high rates of respiratory, skin and wound infections.

Incredible to think, looking back on the elbow episode, that I’m now running homeless clinics myself, treating wounds, infections and other health problems; that I’m prescribing antibiotics, dressings and nutritional supplements. Who’d have thought it when I attended that plasma clinic in ’87? Certainly not me.

Homeless people tend to have great difficulty accessing healthcare – even in the UK, where they don’t have to have an address to be registered with a GP – although not all surgery staff realise this, unfortunately. Systems are difficult to navigate; making doctors’ appointments is difficult even for people with the most organised lives; and healthcare often isn’t top of the agenda for people in chaotic, vulnerable circumstances.

Despite the eternal, infernal funding challenges in the voluntary sector, I find it incredibly satisfying, working for a charity outside the NHS, to be able to offer informal, friendly, drop-in clinics, making healthcare accessible at venues where homeless people congregate; not being restricted to 10-minute consultations.

Talking of nutrition, I learned to raid the skips just after McDonald’s had closed at night, for free, freshly discarded burgers while they were still warm! That was such a treat.

“Dumpster diving” as it’s known in the US, or “skipping” in the UK, has hit the media in recent years as high-profile cases have heightened public pressure to reduce food waste by supermarkets and to legalise the practice of taking discarded food from skips – to criminalise supermarkets, not the poor and homeless, for this mad situation. It’s been encouraging to see more scope being given for charities to at least accept food that’s going out-of-date.

The other draw to the cities on my travels was the free meals in soup kitchens and hostels, which tended to be pretty grim, to be honest.

In one hostel, lying on a mattress on the floor of a grimy, bare room shared with a male stranger who had wanted to have sex with me, I clung on to my rucksack in my half-sleep, not trusting anyone.

But in every soup kitchen and hostel, the soup and sandwiches were a welcome relief to an empty stomach. Most were run by Christian missions and I’m forever grateful to all of them.

Some of these mission halls insisted on visitors listening through a gospel talk before being given food. Not too sure of the ethics of that now. And I’m not sure how receptive those raucous crowds with ravenous stomachs could have been to the messages being preached.

However, little bits of what I heard made me think, and I ended up debating and arguing one-to-one with some of the preachers. By this time, I had an interest in Buddhism and didn’t much like these Christians’ dualistic ideas of heaven and hell, God and Satan, good and evil, but something was beginning to chip away at me.

But I had no doubt that, if there were a God, then I was a sinner and needed saving. My understanding of sin, if there were such a thing, was simplistic. My stealing, lying and deceitfulness, my general sense of being a bad person, constituted my sinfulness – if God was real. It was self-evident that my lifestyle constituted one of sin before the Christian god.

If I could be convinced of the existence of God, I’d need no convincing of my sin. But if I continued in my atheism, I could continue in the dubious freedom of my amorality….


Coming Home for Good is available here, in print and on Kindle.

Comments and reviews always welcome!

Thanks for reading,

Roger Nuttall

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Coming Home for Good: published!

Some of you will know that I previously made a draft of my book available for free as an online pdf. I finally decided it would be sensible and viable to publish it properly after some final, further editing.

So…here’s the blurb for the newly released Coming Home for Good, in which I use my autobiography to comment and reflect on homelessness, spirituality, identity and belonging:


“Growing up in ‘70s and ‘80s Thatcherite Britain, Roger developed a deep longing to escape from society to live as an itinerant, free from possessions and responsibilities. In Coming Home for Good Roger attributes this early ambition – or lack of – to a combination of broken home, educational difficulties, an apparently purposeless universe, and disillusionment with a capitalist society.

After running away from home twice, Roger started to live the dream by hitch-hiking around the USA at the age of 19. At 21 he returned to the States to continue pursuing a free, hedonistic lifestyle after burning all his boats in England, eventually experiencing life with no possessions but the clothes he was standing in.

Everything changed when he unexpectedly found Christian faith on the streets of America in 1987 and returned to the UK to pursue a career in nursing. He has now been managing a homeless healthcare service since 2004.

Coming Home for Good traces the roots of Roger’s lifestyle choices, the adventures and experiences of life on the roads and streets of America, and lessons learned from working with homeless people. He tells of his ongoing, unfolding sense of identity and self-actualisation, the potential for which he sees in the lives of the homeless people he works with. Recurring themes of hope, empathy and compassion are seen as keys to unlocking this potential.

Coming Home for Good uses examples of personal life experience to discuss ‘physical, psychological and spiritual homelessness’, and to reflect on identity, individuality, addiction and belonging, all of which, while especially pertinent in the context of homelessness, are issues that affect everyone.”

One friend, after reading the book, gave this review:

“[Coming Home for Good] has been of huge help and encouragement to me – nice to know that love, empathy and compassion may be enough in the end.”

Follow this link to buy at Amazon UK

Follow this link to buy at Amazon.com

Also available on Kindle.

Hope you’ll find it interesting!

With love

Roger Nuttall

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God’s ‘mini-me’s

Can humans be gods? Of course not. At least not according to Christianity.

Yet, in Psalm 82, one of the Jewish / Christian scriptures, God (Yahweh) addresses Israel’s rulers as ‘gods’! Humans described as gods! This incredible psalm should come as quite a shock to most religious people.

Jesus himself quoted from this psalm to affirm that God did indeed address the people as gods – in order to make his point: “Why is it so hard to accept that I could be God’s son?”

The words of Psalm 82 have mind-blowing implications for our society in various ways:

  • As ‘gods’ or Yahweh’s representatives, our leaders and politicians have a God-given responsibility to exercise mercy and social justice: to care for the marginalised and vulnerable. As numbers of people dependent on food banks due to benefits sanctions rise and rise, and as homelessness grows unstoppably in Hastings where I live and across the UK with no sign of slowing down, I wouldn’t like to be in the shoes of our current government before a holy God – where holiness is not the cold piety of a distant deity, but the fiery, devoted passion for ultimate justice on behalf of the most vulnerable. I suspect there’s a message there for our American friends too, with just a few days to the presidential election.


  • As ‘gods’, every human being has an intrinsic worth far beyond that which any of us can ever imagine – far above anything expressed by most theological and psychological schools of thoughts. And no wonder – the idea of us being ‘gods’ is so radical and far-reaching, it verges on blasphemy to Judeo-Christian thinking. To approach the idea of people being ‘gods’ is to walk on holy ground. And yet it is a Christian idea. God is. I am. The mystery of our being mirrors the mystery of his being. We are, literally, God’s children. We carry his DNA, his genes – so much more than his image. So ingrained in Christian thinking is the idea of sin’s pervasiveness, that the holiness, goodness and beauty that underlies our brokenness is usually missed. I would so love for all the broken, hurting, struggling people I know (that’s pretty much everyone, including me) to begin to grasp this core identity that we have. What incredible healing there would be in that comprehension!


  • Those regarded as ‘least’ and ‘lowest’ according to the echelons of society, or ‘low-life’ as I’ve heard them described, are nevertheless ‘gods’ according to Yahweh – not just his representatives, they are his ‘mini-me’s – and therefore, as Jesus made plain, whatever we do or fail to do for them, we do or fail to do for him. This affords us amazing privileges and opportunities to encounter the holy love and presence of Yahweh as we serve society’s marginalised, pray for them and press for social justice.


Here’s Psalm 82 in full:

God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the gods:

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

The gods know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

“I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.


(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

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Poverty is big TV these days. Benefits by the Sea, On Benefits & Proud, for example. And it’s not just these so-called ‘poverty porn’ documentaries. It’s also the constant stream of news and other media debating the exponential rise of food banks and the effects of Government policy, driving too many people to the breadline and beyond.

MythCo-written by Martin Charlesworth and our very own Hastings local Natalie Williams (both working for an organisation called Jubilee+), The Myth of the Undeserving Poor is a short, insightful book that highlights the media’s pervasive use of lazy, toxic stereotyping of poverty and its influence on the British public’s attitudes to poverty.

The Myth of the Undeserving Poor, in my view, deserves to become a modern classic.

Despite having worked with homeless people for the last 11 years and thinking I’m pretty understanding and empathic when it comes to poverty, there were some real lightbulb moments as I read this book.

So, I decided to write this little blog piece as a book review and recommendation, for all my friends, colleagues, and anyone else willing to receive a wise education – with no guilt trips attached – in attitudes towards British (or even western) poverty.

In The Myth of the Undeserving Poor, Natalie Williams reports on a survey she conducted in 2014, in which she analysed nearly 400 media items (including reports, features, comment pieces, letters and cartoons) related to poverty in Britain, appearing in 10 major (and varied) news sources over a 4-week period.

Her analysis of the findings revealed two particular concerns: a generally negative media bias against those in poverty – unsurprisingly more extreme in certain news sources (such as the Daily Mail and The Sun) than others; and a widespread lack of views and comments directly from those in poverty themselves; both concerns creating an ‘us and them’ mentality amongst the public, or as one journalist described it, a “gradual erosion of empathy” where poor people are regarded as “an entirely different species” and “instead of being disgusted by poverty , we are disgusted by poor people themselves”.*

The authors also report on another survey they undertook in 2014 involving 419 people, comparing attitudes of Christians with those of the general public towards poverty. Although there was evidence of greater sympathy and awareness amongst Christians surveyed, the authors were more interested to discover the principal influences on Christians’ attitudes towards poverty.

Political preferences were, perhaps unsurprisingly, found to be intrinsically linked to attitudes. Broadly speaking, those who identify with the Conservatives were found to demonstrate less sympathy than those with other or no political affiliation.

Also not too surprisingly – but pertinently – was the correlation found between attitudes and proximity to poverty. In other words, those who worked with or lived amongst people in poverty demonstrated greater empathy, while those who were physically detached showed less understanding.

Of greater concern, perhaps, was the link found between attitudes towards poverty and choice of newspaper read by Christian respondents.

For example, fewer regular readers of the Daily Mail (36%) and The Telegraph (39%) agreed that large income gaps between the rich and poor are ‘morally wrong’, than those who regularly read the Daily Mirror (73%) or The Guardian (65%).

Similarly, 36% of Daily Mail readers believe the level of help available from the State is not enough, causing hardship, compared with 80% of Daily Mirror readers.

Charlesworth and Williams point out that, for Christians, there are (inevitably) factors other than our faith that will influence our attitudes and beliefs about poverty, and effectively apply some guiding principles from the teachings and examples of Jesus and other Biblical sources to current media coverage of British poverty.

Very helpfully, the authors describe and define 4 distinct elements to poverty:

  • Economic
  • Aspirational
  • Relational
  • Spiritual

An example from one of the TV programmes (Breadline Kids, 2014) which would instinctively elicit empathy and compassion from most viewers is juxtaposed with the example of someone who says they’d rather live on benefits because they’re better off that way and that they can get a bigger house by having more kids.

The authors make the case that our lack of compassion for the latter example misses the point that this person is also in a type of poverty – aspirational and spiritual – and that generally adults in this kind of poverty have been raised in poverty and may be unable to see any other way. Not that this means that handouts are necessarily the answer, but it does mean that as a society we need to recognise and understand patterns of poverty and be willing to extend the appropriate kind of help, rather than label some as ‘deserving’ and others as ‘undeserving’ of help.

On the subject of aspirational and spiritual poverty, let me illustrate this with a snapshot from my own life…

In my forthcoming book (I say forthcoming – I mean in about 20 years, when I have time to write it), I’ll be describing spiritual and relational homelessness. I didn’t grow up in any kind of material poverty – far from it – but I did grow up in a very unhappy house that never felt like home and so for this and other reasons I chose homelessness as a way of life.

Although I wasn’t forced on to the streets as many of my homeless clients have been, my physical homelessness was a direct consequence of a relational poverty (dysfunctional family) and spiritual homelessness (my total insecurity and atheism).

I experienced aspirational poverty, in that the ‘rat race’ or pursuing a career was, to me, completely futile, so I flunked exams. My only aim was to live as an itinerant, pursuing self-seeking experiences.

When I found a spiritual home (through coming to faith in Jesus), all of that was changed in an instant. My hedonistic pursuit of sex, drugs and travel, and the sense of futility I felt in ‘normal’ life, was replaced by an inner drive to use what I had usefully to help others in some way, which led me into a career in nursing and eventually to working as a nurse with homeless people, as I do now.

Once my spiritual poverty was resolved, my aspirational poverty was also overturned. This in turn brought an end to my (previously chosen) economic poverty. So, in my case at least, spiritual and relational poverty was the root of other kinds of poverty.

More on that in my ‘imminent’ book….! But back to a book that has been written

One final comment, and this is an observation, not a criticism. The Myth of the Undeserving Poor is written by Christians, from a Biblical viewpoint, to challenge and inform the attitudes of other Christians.

I’ve already recommended this book to colleagues who have a different worldview, yet I don’t know how accessible The Myth of the Undeserving Poor with its distinctly ‘religious’ angle, laced with Bible references, would be for them.

I would love to see a later edition of the book aimed at a wider readership, more designed to challenge prejudices and myths in the wider British public rather than specifically UK Christians, while still maintaining its Christian basis.

That said, there would still be much for people without a Christian persuasion to relate to in this first edition, and I hope they’ll give this a shot. Furthermore, this informative book could serve to break down some prejudices and misunderstandings about Christianity as well as poverty.

The research findings and myth-busting covered by The Myth of the Undeserving Poor are relevant and important reading for people of any or no faith living in 21st Century Britain.

The Myth of the Undeserving Poor is available from Amazon UK for £7.00


(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is? Please read my About page. Thanks!)


* Moore, S. (2012) ‘Instead of being disgusted by poverty, we are disgusted by poor people themselves’, The Guardian.

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Ran for Home

Well, that’s the Hastings Half Marathon done for another year. And I’m glad it’s over!

Apart from the fact that training’s been hard this winter for a variety of reasons, I seem to have lost some of that competitive edge – as a consequence of delving into a more contemplative approach to prayer.

Since 1987, when I took that initial step of faith, prayer has been my strength – the most vital and special element of my life. Recently I’ve enjoyed a more mindful, restful attitude to prayer (and to a lesser extent, to life), stopping to experience things like being held in love rather than just asking for things.

Suddenly, the idea of running hard over endless hours of training, just to try and gain a faster time, seems a bit pointless. All that hassle just for a number? Vanity, in both senses: meaningless and narcissistic. I get myself ready for a run, only to find my heart saying I’d rather be resting in my Father’s arms, my spiritual home, where I’m fully approved, fully loved, with nothing to prove.

Now, I’m not knocking races, running or competition. This just happens to be where I’m at right now. There’s plenty of value in all these things, and I’ll probably carry on competing. Perhaps with less drive.

But today…..today I was running in the Hastings Half Marathon for Seaview Project. Extra added motivation to race.

Years ago I found my home, spiritually and physically. Today I ran for homes for the homeless.


If you’ve read my last post, Running for Home, you’ll know a bit about Seaview and why I was running for a charity that, amongst other things, helps homeless people back on to their feet.

If you’ve already sponsored me, thank you so much.

The total amount raised so far (online and offline donations) is a fantastic £648 + Gift Aid.

If you sponsored me, then you’ll probably also know that I set myself a challenge, and asked you to consider increasing your donation after the event if I managed to run under 1hr 35mins (which was going to be highly unlikely, especially after coming down with a horrible virus 9 days before the race!).

Well, my finishing time was 1hr 35mins 54secs: 2 minutes slower than last year, but as fast as I realistically expected. So I’m kind of pleased. But….

That doesn’t quite count as under 1:35, does it??

If you sponsored me and were considering upping the donation if I ran under 1:35, then I’ll leave you to decide whether that was close enough! 🙂

Please click here to donate – either again or for the first time!

Thank you and God bless you!


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Running for Home

Please follow this link to sponsor me in the 2015 Hastings Half Marathon, to raise funds for Seaview Project.

Homelessness can happen to anyone – even an international sprinter. You may have read this week about top Sierra Leone athlete, Jimmy Thoronka, who was found sleeping rough on the streets of London after being afraid to return to his home country where his family have been decimated by Ebola.

Although most homeless people are not international sprinters, the pattern is all too familiar: a history of bereavements, losses and trauma, often taking to the streets to escape from something worse, resulting in malnutrition, depression and suicidal thoughts.

I’m privileged and proud to be associated with Seaview Project, a Hastings-based charity with “an open access wellbeing centre offering help and inspiration for people living on society’s margins”.

Seaview helps homeless people to get re-housed and back on their feet.

SeaviewTheir “range of support services help marginalised people with addiction problems, mental health issues, ex- and at-risk offenders and rough sleepers achieve personal growth and fulfilment” (taken from Seaview’s website).

Most homeless people are forced by a vicious circle of life’s circumstances on to the streets.

A few choose homelessness for a variety of reasons. I was someone who was attracted to life on the road and the streets because I was rootless – spiritually and emotionally homeless – like many of the physically homeless people I meet.

You can read how my life turned around when I found a spiritual home in My Life’s Soundtrack.

I now work for St John Ambulance Hastings Homeless Service. As a nurse, I lead a team providing a nurse-led healthcare service at Seaview’s day-centre. You can read more about us in this RCN article.

My clients often tell me that Seaview is a ‘lifeline’ or a ‘life-saver’ to them. It literally is.

Like all charities, Seaview is dependent on the generosity and support of people like you and me to keep going.

So please consider sponsoring me in this year’s Hastings Half Marathon, as I run to raise money for Seaview – follow this link to donate.

You may know I’m a seasoned Half Marathon runner, so you may be thinking, “Why should I sponsor you to do what you normally do anyway?”

Well, training has been a huge struggle this year. With one cold after another this winter, a heavy workload and the demands of family life, my running’s dropped to once or twice a week – some weeks not running at all. I’ve gained half a stone, my pace has slowed right down and I’ve struggled to do the distance. So, another good reason to sponsor me, maybe?

In 2014, I ran the Hastings Half Marathon in just under 1 hour 34 minutes. This year, I’m more likely to take about 1:40. With less than 2 weeks to go (as I write this), and colds hopefully behind me, I’m trying to cram in some last minute speed training. If you sponsor me, would you also consider increasing your donation after the event if I succeed in finishing in under 1:35???

Most importantly, the best reason to sponsor me in this year’s Hastings Half Marathon is because it’s for Seaview, a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Please follow this link to sponsor me in the 2015 Hastings Half Marathon, to raise funds for Seaview Project.

Thank you!

Roger Nuttall

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Hope for the Homeless

Maybe you’ve read about my journey to faith in My Life’s Soundtrack. If you haven’t, I’d love it if you decided to have a peek. From being physically – but primarily spiritually – homeless some years ago, I found a home in Jesus and my insecurities began to be healed from the inside out.

Of course, that was just the start of the journey. It can be tempting to think, when we have that kind of turn-around, that that’s it. We’ve found what we were looking for. We’ve been born again, found peace, were lost but now we’re found, or whatever. But it’s just the start. And the best is yet to come.

Like the romance of honeymoon, those who genuinely love and are truly loved know that real love is not the passion of newlyweds but that which has overcome trials, which has stood the test of time and tragedy and challenges, which has matured and developed into something deeper, more courageous, more giving.

My relationship with God is not what it was when I was a zealous young fanatical charismatic Christian. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s different. Actually, it is better!

For one thing I’m more reflective, and more secure in my faith, and therefore more free to be honest about my beliefs rather than feel I have to agree with any party lines of the Christian establishment – while at the same time valuing unity more highly than ever!

My outer life tends to consist of mornings, evenings and nights spent managing the joys and challenges of my family – a toddler, a teenager and one in between – wrapped around daytimes spent busily coordinating a homeless health service. It’s all good, of course. That is, I have everything to be thankful for, even if I’d like to complain about being too busy and tired and not having enough time to go running or to write stuff like this! But here I am.

(OK, I am busy and tired and that’s why I can’t sleep and why I’m writing this in the middle of the night, but I still have no reason to complain…)

But even these things are not what my life really consists of. My real life is internal and is made up of my waxing and waning love for Jesus, my attachments, joys, temptations, hopes and doubts, and the attitudes of my heart towards my family, clients, colleagues, friends, neighbours and strangers.

I express my love for God differently these days. The scriptures I treasure (i.e. the Bible) tell me that the kind of worship that God is pleased with is not so much exuberant songs or sacrificial giving or church commitment, but treating people in need – especially those most marginalised by society or religion – with dignity, respect, value and compassion – with ‘agape’ love.

Homeless and vulnerably housed people, amongst others, are a gift from God to us. They offer us the opportunity to express our love for him in a tangible way on this earth.

Doing the job I do is a mind-blowingly incredible gift, privilege and responsibility that I’ve been entrusted with. One I don’t want to take lightly. In my busy-ness, an attitude of love, so easily forgotten, is everything.

Bulletin-316-coverIt has been a wonderful privilege and opportunity also to have an article on the Hastings Homeless Service featured in this month’s Royal College of Nursing Bulletin.

Please click on the picture opposite (that’s me!) and then go to pages 8-9 to have a read about what I do…

…externally, at least.

And if you’re a praying person, please pray for us, that this service would reveal divine, healing love to its clients and colleagues.

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The Spirit of Healthcare

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my manager’s manager flew into a furious rage a couple of years ago over a small section of a report I’d written on a service evaluation survey. In response to a client’s comment expressing a need for ‘more religious support’, I’d attempted to show how our homeless service could do more to take into consideration clients’ spiritual needs.

As a Christian working for a secular organisation, I have no wish to use or abuse my position by ‘proselytising’ or Bible-bashing at work (nor to do the latter anywhere else!), and my comment in the report was simply a reflection on one client’s wishes (whatever he meant by that) in the context of holistic care.

Our Western society is dogged by cynicism, scepticism and negativism – and no more so than when it comes to matters of faith, religion and spirituality. The dominant secularist (and often prejudiced) agenda often ignores the vast contribution made by faith communities (i.e. mainly churches) to society, week in, week out, and to blame religion for many of the world’s ills. The narrow-minded atheist also pits an unnecessary battle between theism and science…

…whereas the thinking person, atheist or Christian, acknowledges that it’s people and institutions with power, not religion, that cause wars, and sees no conflict between science and belief in God. But that’s another blog post…

Secularists, under the ‘new atheism’ banner, would rid the world of religion, claiming its harmfulness – sometimes out of fear of religion and faith, simply because they don’t understand it, in the same way that ignorance breeds racism and homophobia.

Healthcare and spirituality are inextricably and historically intertwined. But the manager in question had no clinical background. His reaction was founded in ignorance, probably of faith and spirituality, certainly of healthcare.

At this point we could discuss the faith-based history of hospitals and hospices and indeed the organisation I work for. We could also look at research that shows how people who belong to a church tend to have lower rates of ill health – how belonging to a (faith) community bestows proven psychological benefits and promotes altruism.

But rather than tread the well-worn path, however useful that may be, for the sake of freshness I prefer to speak from my own experience, so here are some examples…

First of all, my U-turn from a hedonistic life on the road, to a career as a nurse (see My Life’s Soundtrack) was the direct result of a fairly dramatic conversion to Christianity. An inner change effected a passion to promote the physical, social and spiritual health of others.

Then, early on in my nurse training, I was taught that spirituality was an important yet often neglected part of patient assessment and nursing care.

That spirituality was not just about whether the patient ticked ‘C of E’ on their hospital admission form, but about what gives meaning and purpose and values and joy and hope to that person’s life.

How they feel about death and dying.

How they deal with their own suffering and illness.

What their longings and aspirations are.

And also whether they have a faith or religion in the conventional or unconventional sense, and how they express that faith.

These are spiritual (and psychological) considerations which every healthcare professional needs to be aware of when dealing with patients and clients. And yet, many professionals shy away from such questions for fear of the unknown, being unsure – as many are – of their own spirituality and beliefs, let alone those of others.

Adrift in their agnosticism.

This neglect is further magnified in the world of homeless services, in which clients are hardly ever asked about faith and spirituality, let alone encouraged to engage with their religion and attend places of worship, if they have faith, or to explore their spirituality1.

An uber-secularist world which sometimes goes so far as to actively discourage such discussion, to the detriment of its service users. So much for person-centred care.

On one occasion, as a student nurse on Coronary Care Unit (a small open plan unit where everyone could hear everyone else’s conversation), a patient asked me question after keen, searching question about my faith, and I found myself speaking in some detail about the good news of Jesus and what that meant to me. I felt quite trepidatious (OK, I know it’s not a real word, but it should be) about being overheard by other staff and patients, and wondered if I’d be disciplined for ‘proselytising’.

To my relief and amazement, in my final assessment on the placement, the staff nurse who was my mentor praised me for delivering spiritual care, and again emphasised how often spiritual needs are neglected. The patient made a full recovery, but being hospitalised with a cardiac condition, had perhaps faced questions and fears in his own mind about death, dying and suffering. And perhaps I was the right person at the right place and time for him.

Another time during my training, in the anaesthetic room, I was alone with a patient about to undergo surgery. She seemed especially anxious and yet somehow I ‘sensed’ that she was a Christian and might appreciate prayer. She confirmed this was the case, we prayed, and her anxieties were significantly allayed. Later on, she found out my name and wrote me an effusive letter of appreciation for the difference this encounter had made to her in facing her op. Her spirituality was integral to her healthcare, recovery and wellbeing.

I love being a Christian – for all kinds of reasons. One thing I like about Jesus is that he was (is) such a renegade. Always breaking the rules. Not for the sake of it, but to show us a better way. I relate to that.

Not keeping the Sabbath. Because there are people who need healing, affirmation and love every day of the week. A better way.

Not condemning a woman who’d been unfaithful. So that both she and her accusers could learn mercy and a new way of life.

Hanging out with sex workers, outcasts and underdogs, while lambasting religious leaders. Setting the record straight.

The messiah being tortured and executed. That’s not meant to happen, is it? Breaking the rules for our freedom and healing.

The way of Jesus, unlike religion, has no rules. Except perhaps the ‘rule’ of love. Love God, and your neighbour as yourself.

Loving yourself is definitely not a rule, but an inevitable response to being loved. When we’ve received the affirmation and acceptance that Jesus offers, we start to forgive and love ourselves. That kind of self-love, self-worth, changes our attitudes to our bodies and minds, as well as to other people.

There are no rules against smoking, booze or drugs for Christians. No rules against chocolate, all-you-can-eat-breakfasts, espressos or over-working.

Smoking and getting drunk AREN’T ‘against my religion’. Couldn’t resist putting that in BOLD type.

And yet…

I stopped smoking about the time I came to faith in Jesus. Tobacco, that is. Cannabis and all other illicit drugs came to an end for me a bit later. I haven’t wanted to get drunk (or been drunk) since before I first experienced the Holy Spirit about 25 years ago. It would be no big deal if I had been drunk – the point is that Jesus gave me a better way.

I do have my vices (let’s not discuss my coffee habit or chocoholism), but my life is pretty healthy. I have self-worth. I care about my life, because I know my worth to my Father. My spirituality is inseparable from my physical and mental health.

When my homeless and vulnerably housed clients find self-giving love, whether from God or others, they find a reason to care for themselves. They’re less likely to be suicidal or to self-harm. A higher power or higher purpose gives them a reason to live and change. Spirituality cannot be divorced from health, especially mental and emotional health.

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Moving from my own experience to an excellent and much-needed recent study…

Clients – not support workers or managers – initiated a spirituality group at a homeless service in London, which they felt lacked the opportunity to explore issues of spirituality and faith.

This client-inspired group then led to research conducted by (self-confessed atheist) Carwyn Gravell on behalf of secular thinktank Lemos & Crane.

This much-needed, much-welcomed study, Lost and Found, reports on the results of 75 in-depth interviews with homeless service users on the subject of faith and spirituality.

Clients “described faith and spirituality as being a significant aspect of their personal lives and identity, contributing to their wellbeing, helping them to recover from mental health or drug and alcohol problems or to pursue a future free from offending”.

Spirituality inseparable from health.

Over 70% described themselves as religious or as having been religious at some stage in their lives. Many saw themselves as spiritual in a broader sense.

Most service users appreciated the opportunity to express their inner selves and their own unique responses to their profound experiences of loss. One interviewee felt the research indicated that the organisation was taking him seriously as a whole person with an individual identity, and not just a mechanical service user.

This thorough, objective report confirms what I and others already knew and has given that knowledge substance and evidence. For those of us who long to move on from the narrow-minded, secularistic-worldview-dominated service delivery model, to give truly holistic care, this report is welcome news.

My manager’s manager – the one who had the tantrum – has left the organisation I work for. That obstacle to holistic care of my homeless clients has gone.

And I’m looking forward to discussing Lost and Found with my line manager and colleagues, exploring how we can implement its findings.

Whatever form that takes, it certainly won’t involve conducting religious services or anything specifically ‘Christian’, but will entail working with clients where they’re at and towards where they want to be.

And I’m so glad that God is able to meet with people where they are. And will be found by those who are honestly searching.

I was thinking about how to finish this post and I don’t actually have a witty or flippant comment as I usually do. Maybe that’s because this is a subject so close to my heart.

If you have any views on the subject of spiritual care in the world of healthcare or social support, I’d be very grateful if you could share this post and/or comment below, as appropriate.

Thank you, and blessings for reading this!

1. Lost and Found: faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless people (Lemos & Crane 2013)

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