Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: “This ain’t my life”

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
6 September 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

Just before I went on leave I was listened to the last in a series of podcasts from the Charles Parker Awards

I must confess that I had never heard of Charles Parker before

He was a BBC Radio presenter who started his life working for Radio Birmingham in the 1950’s

He specialised in documentary and, in particular, testimony from working people

On his death, the Charles Parker Prize was established 

The prize is open to any student studying radio production at any Further or Higher Education establishment in the United Kingdom.

And has established a reputation for excellence   

This years’ winner was Alexandra Morgan of Birmingham City University who produced a documentary entitled “This ain’t my life”

And the documentary centred on one homeless man, Kane Walker, who died on the streets of Birmingham in 2019.  

As might be expected from a prize winning entry it was captivating piece of journalism

The narrator told a personal story of something that had happened to her whilst she was a student at Birmingham City University

The opening sequence went as follows:

“A couple of months ago, I was walking back from town, a little bit drunk, when I saw a homeless man curled up in a ball like a child.

He was sobbing but people were walking straight past him like he didn’t exist.

So I ended up sitting down with him.

I got him a hot meal and had a chat with him. He told me his name was Kane, Kane Walker”

I won’t lie, but I did feel pretty good about myself like my good deed had been done

I then carried on my own life and forgot about him until four weeks later when the local news was full of one story – a homeless man had died

They didn’t even give him a name but the second I saw his face, I knew it was Kane”

I looked up the incident on-line after I heard it on the podcast

Unlike most homeless deaths, his death was reported in the local paper, The Birmingham Mail

They report of his death read as follows:

“Kane Walker died in a freezing Birmingham underpass after suffering a heroin overdose

He was found under a flyover just yards from the Bullring on January 27

He had spent years sleeping in doorways and sheltering beneath bridges in the city and was familiar to homeless outreach teams.

Despite the efforts of paramedics, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said at the time there were no suspicious circumstances

The inquest into his death later found that he had died from a heroin overdose exacerbated by pneumonia”

The paper remarked that he was a “loving and caring man” whose life had “spun out of control

At his funeral the parish priest admitted he knew little about Kane’s life

As he pointed out, as with so many homeless people, the details are pitifully scant

The radio programme went on to unpack the story a bit further

The student interviewed a number of homeless people about what it was like living on the street

One homeless person said that the worst thing was being ignored

“When you sit for 15/16 hours in a doorway people think you are invisible” said the man

As he put it, “people look at me as they would look at a sex offender”

Interestingly, he said that when people start interacting, it made him feel more human

As he said, “Just a little hello is a help…just be nice”

As for the public, almost everyone was sympathetic

Some said that it made them really sad

As one person remarked “we are a wealthy country and people should not have to live like this”

But as for helping out, most people said that they did not know what to do

Rather like the story this morning, they simply walked by on the other side of the street

Not everyone passed by however

Just like the parable, there were those who tried to help and this included a Street Pastor called Colin Rankin

He pointed out the blindingly obvious

That person on the street is

“someone’s brother, son, aunty, grandad or grandma”

As he put it

“get out there and hug them…talk to them, buy them a sandwich, walk them to a hotel and pay for them for a week”

It sounds like the instruction from Jesus this morning

But in my view, the most powerful words of all came from the student herself

She concluded her broadcast with the following words

“I did not know Kane for very long but, if there is one thing that can come from this…let it be the thought that we can help the next Kane

“You can acknowledge the person on the pavement you would usually ignore

Even if you can’t offer them food or money just let them know that you care

Listen to them”

Kane Walker said just before he died “this ain’t my life”

It doesn’t have to be the next person’s either