Monday, 25 July 2016

Pubs, prisons and potential - visiting the Bristol District

I never thought that being Vice President would get me VIP entry to a nightclub in Chippenham. And I certainly never thought I'd be wearing a hi-vis jacket while I was in there.

This was only one of many wonderful experiences that Roger and I had on our first district visit, spending four days in the Bristol District.

Mandy Briggs, Education Officer
at the New Room
Visiting the New Room building site
We had two hi–vis moments during our visit. The first was when we donned jackets and hard hats, George Osborne style, to visit the new building project at the New Room, Bristol - the oldest Methodist building in the world. The building project will result in a cafe, library, education space and exciting new museum - and is slotted (very) carefully into a courtyard between Grade 1 listed buildings.

Out on patrol
We put on the second hi-vis of our visit on our evening out with the Street Pastors of Chippenham. I had heard about the work of Street Pastors before, but this was the first time I'd seen them in action.  We went out with them on their first shift of the evening.  After praying together we set out in two teams, on either side of the road.  My first impression was how much they were integral to the night time economy: the police, the door staff, the bar owners all knew them (this was when, wearing my hi-vis observer jacket, were invited into the club SM15 to be given a quick tour by the owner).  What's more, the people out in Chippenham for the night not only knew them, but appreciate what they do.  I was stopped on a number of occasions by people, often obviously enjoying their night out, who said thank you for the Street Pastors.  
Rachel's street cred rises -
we were photographed by the
official club photographer

Secondly I was stunned by how effective a set up this is: Street Pastors are well trained, equipped with first aid, defibrillators, water, flip flops (your feet hurt after a night out!), jelly babies (great at defusing fights), walkie talkies with links to the news about what was going on in bars and on CCTVs.

Visiting the police station in Chippenham
with Police Chaplain, Revd David Gray
And thirdly I couldn't help but be moved by the Christian care they displayed: from helping the distressed homeless man, keeping an eye on the young man high on drugs, talking with the Polish man about life after the referendum, to helping people who were vulnerable through drink or circumstance. Chatting to the pastors on duty that evening they spoke about how they wanted to put something back into their community and saw it as a way of practically witnessing to the gospel.

We were also privileged to visit a prison over the weekend.  This was my first time inside a prison, and I found it hard. The staff we met were impressive, committed to a fair and safe place where prisoners could grow in both skills and personal development. And the multi-faith chaplaincy service there was incredible, way beyond anything I'd imagined chaplaincy could offer. But this is all in the face of a physically tired building, a chronic lack of staff which can prevent inmates taking part in activities, and an environment and lifestyle which is unhealthy.  Thank God for what is being done, but how much more we need to prioritise our criminal justice system to make rehabilitation possible.

The art room at the Bristol
Methodist Centre
Discussions about life post-referendum
at the Bristol Methodist Centre
On Saturday we saw the new Bristol Methodist Centre, a refurbished church building operating as a day centre for homeless and vulnerably housed people. As well as offering food, showers and support, it has a sacred space, art room and even kennels so that homeless people with dogs can use the facilities.  

Communion at Fairways
On Sunday Roger and I headed in different directions to worship: Roger went to Pill, the place from which Francis Asbury sailed to America where he ended up as a founding figure of American Methodism; and I went to Chippenham Central Methodist. In the afternoon we celebrated communion with residents of the Fairways MHA home. Throughout the weekend it was lovely to meet with so many Methodist and other Christians, to talk, eat and laugh together.

On board the ARK bus - faith in action
Thank you to members of the Bristol District for making us so welcome on our first visit. We can't possibly describe everything we did or everyone we met (there’s so much going on!) but we hope these photos give something of an idea. Thanks particularly to David, Ann, David, Ann, Jonathan, Denise, Andy, Kate, the street pastors, friends at Sea Mills, the Ark, the New Room and the Bristol Methodist Centre, and to Mike Alderman for being our official photographer!
In the garden of Charles Wesley's house
(yes, we needed a sit down by this stage!)

Communion at the New Room

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