I have had the joy of serving as city centre chaplain in Peterboroughfor one day a week over the past 12 months. In developing this project I have had three objectives:
2) To train a team of lay chaplains.
3) To have a regular ‘point of contact.’
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 responding to the desperate needs of some people, which have included those contemplating suicide and those who have been kicked out of their home or those needing to talk in times of bereavement.
I have also spent time with people who are homeless, supplying tea and something to eat when needed and also sleeping bags. However, on reflection, most of my time has been spent listening to all kinds of people who simply need to talk. Since working as chaplain I have shared well over 50 plus cups of tea or coffee with different people who, on the whole, seem to have benefited from a 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 documentary showing of ‘Homeless’ when 80 guests from all walks of life viewed an inside perspective of the street culture in Peterborough.
With regards to shops and shop workers I have decided to focus my efforts on a handful of them at a time so as to get to know the staff on a deeper level rather than just popping in and saying hello to hundreds! On one occasion when talking to the amazing big hearted staff of a local tattoo and piercing parlour I was asked to tattoo a ‘symbol of hope’ onto the owners leg. This must have been both the most unusual and humbling request I have had in my life. He sad, ‘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 some people as ‘the priest who tattooed me.’ What an honor. One of those moments in my life when I feel totally honored.
My team of lay chaplains
I now have 4 amazing lay chaplains who work with me every Thursday afternoon for two hours and a further 2 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 through 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 suicidal; by the end of the day he felt much better and we were able to take him to his doctors.
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 let them know that they are valued. One lady came back for the second week for one of Sheila’s special hugs as the week previous she had taken up the offer of one, the first hug she had received in 2 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 50 names! We spent time praying for each one.
Our new regular point of contact in 2012 will be on Friday afternoon as one of my volunteers is a student training for pioneer ministry with the Anglican Church and can only make Friday. Simon Kaye has already shown himself to be a great asset to us and comes with years of experience, some of which as a bomb disposal expert in the RAF. I suppose this will be useful if situations with the public get rather explosive!
Media attention and a growing of ideas for chaplaincy
Benefiting the chaplaincy considerably has been a healthy amount of media attention. BBC Radio Cambridgeshire did a feature on the work earlier on in the year, and then over the summer Channel 4 asked to spend a day with me filming what I do. This has yet to be aired, yet I am assured it will be soon! More recently the Evangelical Alliance did a feature on the work I do for their magazine IDEA which included a healthy portion of Peterborough in the report.
As well as the regular weekly contact in the city I have been able to set up a project called Saints on the Street. This takes place on the 3rd Sunday morning of every month outside the Town hall. This initiative, as well as going down well in Peterborough is being replicated around the UK by other churches in towns and cities. The aim is to gently encourage people who wouldn’t consider going to a church service to consider the Christian faith. Last year we had great fun creatively connecting the message of Jesus with people out and about on a Sunday morning. For example, on Fathers Day, working in partnership with Park Rd Baptist church we hired a rodeo bull for dad’s to have some fun, and a card making table for children to make cards for their dads. Simon Kaye will be developing his own Saints on the Street on the 1st Sunday and will be looking for volunteers to help him.
If you would like to support what we do through prayer, volunteering as a lay chaplain or to offer some financal support, please do get in touch by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please continue to pray for me and my growing team as we seek to bring God’s love to the city in practical ways. There is an awful amount of ‘need’ out there and as they meet broken people, please pray that the good news of Jesus would transform lives.
Who is Chris Duffett?
Chris lives in rural Cambridgeshire with his wife Ruth and 3 young children. They keep chickens and love being arty and biking. He is a street evangelist and artist who founded The Light Project, a growing network who actively demonstrate the Christian message.
He currently serves as the city centre chaplain inPeterborough, artist in residence in Birmingham and trains others in community evangelism all over theUK. He is an author, regularly writing for Christian today and his book ‘Smack Heads and Fat Cats’ provoked a health warning from Baptist House, Didcot. His soon to be published book ‘Big Hearted’ takes up the theme he has for the year he serves as President of the Baptist Union 2012-2013.