St Mary’s is in one of the more ‘colourful’ parts of the city. A small red brick building in what used to be the industrial heartland of the city. I say ‘red brick’ but now they are mostly black from the years of heavy industry that have long since been eradicated from the city skyline. When politicians say that there is no poverty in the United Kingdom, this is one of the places that is conveniently “forgotten” about.
The people who live here make their way from day to day hoping to have enough food to put in front of their family that evening. Most days the vicarage doorstep is the place where a few of those families who have no option are given the tin of beans or the slice of toast that will get them through to tomorrow morning.
For three weeks now we have been “hosting” Janine. One morning I went to open the church for morning prayer and found her crumpled in the porch in a heap. She was still clinging to the vodka bottle in her left hand. Once we had brought her inside and given her a slice of toast and a cup of tea we started to get to know her. Janine had been living rough for three years. Addicted to heroin she had slipped into abusive relationships. People using her to find their next fix. She had been passed around from pimp to pimp just to get her fix.
She had found herself at the end of the road and yet somehow managed to break the cycle. A shelter had given her that new start she so badly needed. With new start came with little green cups of methadone. For her life to be changed she had to make a break. She had to cut all of the ties with her old life. To do that she has been placed in a flat two streets away from the St Mary’s. There is one pokey room with a chair, a mattress and an electric cooker that looks like it was made in the early 70’s. She had to leave all her “friends” and acquaintances behind as this is the only way to break the cycle of dependency and prostitution.
She never mentions her family and I’ve never pushed her about them. She’s started to do well and since that morning I’ve never seen her drinking. She turns up each morning to the church and sits at the back whilst I say morning prayer. I always make her a cup of tea and she just sits there quietly.
On Christmas Eve there was a purposeful knock on my door and I opened it to find Irene the church warden in quite a state.
“It’s been taken” she blustered at me, “and on Christmas Eve too. Janine’s taken it, I can’t believe it….”
“Calm down Irene” I said “and start at the beginning. What has gone missing and why do you think it’s Janine?”
“She’s the only one who has been in there, she must have taken it this morning!”
“The baby from the crib scene…”
It was with trepidation that I trudged through the snow than evening to Janines flat. With a heavy heart I knocked upon the door and waited. As I shuffled from one foot to the other I prayed. I prayed that she wouldn’t be there. I prayed that she would be out somewhere, anywhere else. What was I even going to say to her? “We assumed you knicked our stuff from church”?
As the door creaked open there was Janine. Her long greasy hair matted to her face where she had been crying. She stared at her feet and couldn’t bring herself to look at me. “I’m sorry vicar, I know I shouldn’t have done it. I knew I shouldn’t have taken baby Jesus. He’s next to the fire. I knew I shouldn’t have taken baby Jesus but I had to…
He’s all I’ve got”.