This week I read that a Church in Westbourne held a special community thanksgiving service for a murdered Big Issue seller. Hundreds of homeless people die or are killed across the UK every year and their passing goes unmarked. Thank God for the Editor of The Baptist Times who made the story of Ralph Millward front page news.
Ralph was an alcoholic and Big Issue vendor in Westbourne whose pitch for sales and sleep was outside the town’s Marks and Spencer store. His battered body was found outside the store on the morning of Friday, May 8th. Three youths aged 14 and 16 have been remanded in custody after appearing in court charged with murder. Ralph was well-known in the area and his brutal murder has sent shock-waves through the streets of this close-knit town. West Cliff Baptist Church has a well established ministry of reaching out to the local homeless community and Ralph had regularly used the services provided since their inception. The Revd Richard Burfoot, Ministry Team Leader at West Cliff said the church was ‘’privileged’ to have known Ralph- a gracious, gentle and polite man who lived a broken existence.”
At Friday’s weekly breakfast drop-in candles were lit and a two-minute silence held to remember Ralph and a memorial service began with a community processions from M&S attended by hundreds from the community. This community seems to me to bestowing Ralph such dignity, respect, compassion and love. It reminds me of the episode in The West Wing when Toby Zeigler organised a full military funeral for a homeless ex-Vietnam veteran who had died wearing a coat Toby that had donated to a homeless shelter. Zeigler was profoundly moved by the plight of the man who had served his country with such bravery and honour.
On behalf of the Christ who showed love and compassion to the outcasts, the scorned and the rejected- I’d like to thank the Christians and people of Westbourne for showing similar respect for the life of Ralph.