CHAPLAINS — mostly unpaid — working in shops, markets, heavily industrialised workplaces, law courts, transport companies, and airports are in the Church’s front line as the British economy faces a significant slowdown and even recession.
In Liverpool, the Revd Jean Flood, a chaplain working with Mission in the Economy, the city’s successor to the Liverpool Industrial Mission, has been savouring the reprieve of her city-centre market and workplace. The financial crisis has prompted officials to put on hold a plan for moving stallholders out to make way for new shops.
Mrs Flood, a non-stipendiary priest who has been working in the city-centre market for three years, said that the planned “revamp” of the city centre, which meant that the stallholders would have to be out by the spring, had been postponed.
“They had been told they are in prime retail space; so they would have to move somewhere else. But in the last couple of weeks, following the global financial crisis, they have been told at a meeting that they will not have to move yet. It could now be in a year, or in three or four years,” she said.
Mrs Flood said that she had run a shop in the market precincts with her husband, selling cake decorations, before she was ordained. Now 57 and a curate at St Paul’s, Fazakerley, she had watched the market’s faltering fortunes.
“Pensioners used to come to the market after visiting the post office, but since the post office closed, a lot of them don’t come here any longer,” she said. “These independent businesses are struggling, and there are very few left. The market is their last bastion. They are suffering from the trading climate.”
The market management “tolerated” her, she said. “But I am appreciated by the stallholders, especially the Muslim stallholders. They say they respect anyone who takes their own religion seriously.”
On Wednesday mornings, she and two or three other chaplains from Mission in the Economy meet for prayer and discussion over a cup of coffee at a John Lewis store. “We don’t sing hymns, and we are very discreet,” she said.
Her colleague, the Revd Mavis McDonnell, has been a chaplain at Warrington market for more than four years. She, too, has a background in retailing: her parents ran a newsagent’s.
“I can understand the struggles of the small retailer: they share those with me in the present economic climate. They are not taking in as much as they are having to pay out in rent and other things. Quite a number of the stalls have closed down. A large shopping precinct has taken a lot of the trade. On top of that, they have bereavements, debt, and depression. I gave pastoral support to one stallholder who was feeling helpless because her granddaughter had an abortion which she didn’t agree with.
“There’s a fair-trade stall and a disability-awareness stall. I support them in prayer, and we have a cup of tea. When I first started, some of the stallholders were quite suspicious: they thought I wanted to push religion; but now they trust me. I occasionally mind a CD stall for a Muslim. But I don’t handle any cash.”
The Revd Fran Lovett, co-ordinator of Mission in the Economy, a not-for-profit charitable company, said that it shared the values of the Liverpool Industrial Mission.
“In the mid ’90s, it was rebranded for the new economy, as so much of the industrial base had fallen away. In 2000, Churches Together in the Merseyside Region undertook a major review to see what was sustainable. Chaplains were reduced to just one full-time post — mine — that is funded by Churches Together. We pay chaplains through a partnership agreement. The chaplain at Liverpool’s John Lennon airport is paid partly by the airport management and partly by us.”
The chaplains were keen to create quiet spaces in workplaces, she said. “We are keeping the flag flying.”