Free Hugs, Leg Tattoo’s and other tales of a City Centre Chaplain
With Chris Duffett
I have had the joy of serving as City Centre Chaplain in Peterborough for one day a week over the past twelve months. My three main objectives in setting up this project are:
1) To respond to the felt needs of the city centre community.
2) To train a team of lay chaplains.
3) To have a regular ‘point of contact.’
What is “Responding to the felt needs of the city centre community”?
The needs of those in the city centre are both varied and vast. At times it seems as if I’m simply scratching the surface in being there for some of those who are desperate, which has included those contemplating suicide, those who have been kicked out of their home, and those needing to talk in a time of bereavement. I have also got to know some of the people who are living on the streets in the city centre, providing tea and a bite to eat when needed.
On reflection it seems most of my time has been spent listening to all kinds of people who simply need to talk.
Since working as chaplain I have had well over fifty cups of tea or coffee with different people, who on the whole seem to have benefited from a sympathetic listening ear as well as having someone to pray for them. Some of these people have in turn helped at different events I have put on through the chaplaincy, most notably the lunch and showing of the documentary ‘Homeless’, when we hosted eighty guests from all walks of life and watched the film giving an inside perspective of street culture in Peterborough.
Our work also relates to shops and shop workers and I focus my efforts on a handful of them at a time so as to get to know the staff at a deeper level rather than just popping in and saying hello to hundreds! On one occasion when talking to the staff of a local tattoo and piercing parlour I was asked to tattoo a ‘symbol of hope’ onto the owner’s leg. This must have been both the most unusual and humbling request I have had in my life! He said, “Every time you come into this shop you give me hope.” He wanted a ‘Cross’, which I gladly obliged, but I must admit was crudely and badly drawn, yet proves to be an incredible opportunity to share something of the good news when introduced to many of the people who frequent the shop as “The Priest who tattooed me”.
My team of Lay Chaplains.
I now have four amazing lay chaplains who work with me every Thursday afternoon for two hours, and a further two volunteers who join me as and when their employment allows them to do so. They each have different skills and gifts,
and together we have been able to gently encourage many people to consider the Christian message. We have also worked well together helping people practically by providing a safe place to talk as well as, when appropriate, assistance with practical items such as food or bus tickets. Recently we spent the afternoon with a young man who was on the brink of suicide; by the end of the day his feelings had changed for the better and we were able to take him to his doctor.
One of my chaplains has a tremendous gift in offering ‘free hugs.’ I have had the privilege of seeing people come for one of Sheila’s hugs only to then spend the rest of the afternoon confiding in her as they pour out their heart to someone willing to care and listen. Sheila now has regular week on week requests, and this has been a wonderful opportunity to share something of God’s love and pray for people, and to let them know that they are valued. One lady came back a second week for one of Sheila’s special hugs as the previous week’s hug was the first she had received in two years! She was desperately lonely.
Our regular ‘point of contact’.
Each week we gather outside St John the Baptist Church with a simple display about the chaplaincy as well as table and chairs for people to join us. We usually offer something to ‘bless’ people, either a free doughnut or free hot drink, or whatever seems suitable for the day. We have been able to get to know quite a number of people through doing this and I was surprised to find that at Christmas when we offered to pray for people and invited them
to write up their name or that of a loved one onto a bauble, we collected over fifty names! We spent time praying for each one.
Our new regular point of contact in 2012 is on Friday afternoon as one of my volunteers, Simon Kaye, is a student training for pioneer ministry with the Anglican Church and can only make this day for his practical placement. Simon has already shown himself to be a great asset to the team and comes with several years of experience, some of which was as a bomb disposal expert in the RAF. I suppose this may be useful if situations with the public get rather explosive!
If you would like to support what we do through prayer, volunteering as a lay chaplain, or to offer some financial support, please do get in touch by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The work carried out by the City Centre Chaplaincy take Christianity to the people with a practical expression of evangelism. To read more of Chris’ tales you can visit his blog click here