WHEN I gave children the chance to sleep in our historic church I had no idea that so many of them would want to do it!
I was inspired to organise an Advent sleepout challenge, which is run by a national charity, the Church Urban Fund (CUF).
They encourage young people to be sponsored to sleep overnight in churches, halls, community centres or even garden sheds.
The idea is to help young people to understand more about homelessness by giving them a glimpse of what it might be like.
And the money raised through sponsorship goes to help those dealing with debt, homelessness, addiction, abuse or violence.
We asked schoolchildren in Years 5 and 6 in our local primary schools if they would like to help and the response was overwhelming.
When we got to 50 people, we had to start saying no!
In the end we had 46 young people, plus leaders and helpers sleeping overnight in All Saints’ Church, Botley.
During the evening, we organised lots of activities, such as filming a mannequin challenge and playing games.
We built cardboard shelters, toasted marshmallows around a campfire, created a graffiti wall about homelessness, decorated our Christmas tree and ate pizza.
And there were also lots of conversations about what it might be like to be homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless, especially at Christmas.
We watched a CUF film that helped us all to see how the money we were raising would be spent.
It was great to see the enthusiasm of the young people to try to make a difference.
The worst bit was the hour when I actually tried to get some sleep.
I made the mistake of choosing a spot with a howling draft coming under the bell tower door.
At least it emphasised for me the challenges so many homeless people will face this year.
Overall, we raised more than £1,000 to help the valuable work that CUF does with those who are marginalised.
And our young people had a really positive experience that I hope will help them to think about these issues in future.
It’s so easy at Christmas for all of us to focus on what we receive.
My prayer is that we’ll all take time to think about what we can give to those in real need.
n All Saints’ Church is in High Street, Botley.
For more information call the parish office on 01489 782445 or go to bcd-churches.org.uk.