The email read 'This comes from a stranger ... Jack and Sarah Bradley suggested I contact you ... Could you find space in your vicarage or another home for a Nigerian Christian family who are having to move out of where they're staying?' Parents and three secondary-school-age children, who want to stay in the UK until April when the eldest daughter finishes her GCSEs. It was so specifically directed at me I didn't feel I could just shrug it off. 'Another home' was a non-starter: I don't know any Swanvale Halters with that much space. It was up to me to say yes or no.
I should have said no to start with, and instead spent several days trying to find ways of avoiding saying it, all of which have so far run into the sand. My spiritual director advised that I should in no circumstances say yes; I countered that one could argue it would be spiritually good for me, a suggestion to which he replied in very succinct and definite terms - in a single word, in fact. The archdeacon was more restrained, remarking guardedly that it would 'not be appropriate', which I think is probably code for calling attention to safeguarding issues. Of course I prayed about it, but to say that is to run the risk of doing what Christians so often do of roping in God to rubber-stamp what they had every intention of doing anyway. I know that in this case as in many others it seems 'the Lord does not answer by Urim or by Thummim or by dreams' (how I sympathise with poor King Saul), and though he commonly speaks through other people I don't necessarily swallow whole what those others say.
So I eventually replied to say No. I've had single lodgers here before, I offered a home to a couple of friends who it looked might face homelessness at the start of this year, and I might even manage to cohabit with a couple and a small child. But five largish people would occupy the whole house and make me the guest here. The necessary negotiations would be more stress than I can face on top of work.
What I've offered to do is augment the family's income so they may be able to afford to rent something more appropriate. This will require pulling our horns in quite significantly until the middle of next year, but even so I know that effectively it's paying a problem to go away, a sort of spiritual Danegeld.
I barely know Jack and Sarah Bradley, by the way. I wonder how they ended up volunteering me?