THE PIONEERING post of fire-safety evangelist established by Essex Fire Brigade in partnership with the diocese of Chelmsford four years ago (Real Life, 2 February 2007) has become a victim of government spending cuts.
Owing to cutbacks, Essex Fire and Rescue Service has announced that it will not be renewing the post held by Stephen Rice, known as the “Vicar in the van”, despite his not being ordained.
Mr Rice, who trained as a lay evangelist in the Church of England, says that he has made about 1200 visits across the diocese, excluding the London boroughs, in his time in the job.
The appointment was made because of the Church of England’s links with “vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups”, such as old people and families with young children, with whom the Fire Service struggled to connect.
Mr Rice carried out fire-safety visits, fitted smoke-detectors, and offered pastoral and spiritual care in the name of the Church.
He said that he was “shocked but not surprised” that his appointment was not being continued, as public services needed to make cutbacks. His original contract was for two years, and he has now served twice as long as that.
Mr Rice, who leads an Alpha course at St Peter and St Paul on the island of West Mersea in Essex, where he lives on a boat, said that there had been “weekly spiritual developments” through the conversations and opportunities that the job afforded him.
He now plans to run silent retreats in his home, a 70-foot Scottish scalloper, the Gypsy Rose. The retreats will be based on the monastic way of life, including prayer, work, and reflection.
Essex County Fire and Rescue Service will save about £30,000 when the post is discontinued. This covered the cost of Mr Rice’s salary, van, uniform and fuel expenses.