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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Good listening at a crucial point

This is a story about being salt and light in an inspired and innovative way - providing a listening ear to detainees at the local police station.

Gill Putnam wrote this article for the newsletter of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and it was sent to me by Jenny Collins of Clarence Park Baptist Church in Weston-super-Mare who is also involved with ChAt, an ecumenical group of volunteers from the town's churches. 

When first launched in 2005, ChAt (Chaplaincy About Town) was set up as a confidential, non-judgemental listening ministry and signposting for all people in Weston-super-Mare town centre, regardless of faith, background or lifestyle, making visible God’s love and concern for all his creation. Described by Bishop Peter Price as “an exciting way of living out the gospel”, we had very little idea of how exciting it was to become!

An ecumenical project, with some 30 volunteers (and a vision to increase the team to 90!) drawn from all Christian denominations, ChAt has grown and found its niche in the life of the town. Whilst still working from shop premises and focusing primarily on ministry to individuals, ChAt has also developed other strands of ministry, and works with other groups in the community, including North Somerset Council, the Town Council, the Town Centre Partnership, Weston BID, Somerset Racial Equality Council, the Black and Ethnic Minority Network, NS Alliance for Cultural Harmony, NS Faith Forum, the Children’s Centre, as well as a number of nursing homes. 

The latest step has come at the request of the Police for us to provide a team of ChAt Custody Chaplains to visit any detainee at Weston-super-Mare Police Station. After months of planning and training the team, which includes both ChAt Chaplains and Street Pastors, the project was finally operational on 16 April 2012. Cllr Roz Willis, Chair of ChAt, Volunteer Chaplain Reg Hiscox and I, the Lead Chaplain, went to Weston Police Station for the launch at 8.00am.Before 8.30am the first detainee asked for support and I was in a cell! Less than an hour later, the detainee, who had been held for most of the night, was focussed and calm, had a plan to seek professional help on returning home, and was in a much better state of mind for the police interview.

We have these encounters at a crucial point in the life of an offender, a time of regret, remorse, shame, and a time of longing to make life-changing decisions. Through good listening and signposting the person is empowered, lives can be transformed and new beginnings made.

We come to every listening session with faith that three people are present – the speaker, the listener and God; it is His presence and peace in the session which makes these encounters different from those with other professional aid agencies.

With the Custody Chaplains as a pilot scheme in Weston-super-Mare, the Police hope it may be possible for the service to be offered in other custody suites in the Avon and Somerset area in due course.

We are now ready to increase the team of ChAt Custody Chaplains. We shall be offering a ‘Come and See’ information stand at our Coffee Morning on Saturday, 1 September, from 10am at the Boulevard United Reformed Church, Weston-super-Mare.. If you would like to know more, please contact me or simply come along on the day. Those who wish to join the team will be asked to provide two references, one of which will be from their church leader who has known them for at least one year, attend an interview, have an enhanced CRB check, and attend a training day on Saturday, 13 October.

As to the future, talks are already taking place regarding the possibility of recruiting and training a ChAt team who will specialise in ministering to nursing homes, particularly those for dementia sufferers, and this team would serve not only the patients but also their families and the staff.

If you would like more information with a view to taking any part in this exciting adventure for God, I’d love to hear from you. Please contact me on 01934 643533 or 01934 416917, email me , or call into ChAt at 67 Meadow Street, WsM, BS23 1QL.

Revd Gill Putnam, Lead Chaplain and Trustee

Chaplaincy About Town (Reg. Charity No. 1101541, Co. Reg. 07868068)

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