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09 November 2012


YOU never know what you are going to come across in our parish.

Up in far-flung north Moulse­coomb, just before UPA Brighton peters out into countryside, there is a little spine of shops which somehow has survived when other similar neighbourhood rows have shrivelled and died.

There is Gully's Fish Bar, which has thrown in its lot with the fortunes of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club (Gully being the Albion's some­what pugnacious seagull mascot); there is a funeral director's, run by Chris, a local lad who grew up on the estate, and who is, as one of its own, hugely trusted; also a post office, ruled by another formidable local family who seem to run the only place in north-east Brighton em­powered to renew your car tax. And then, until recently, there was "Safe and Sorted".

Safe and Sorted was an excellent drop-in centre run by the YMCA, which catered for young people who had fallen through the cracks of standard structured youth-care. They were the kids who struggled at school and struggled at home, often with low self-esteem and real prob­lems.

It was, as the name suggests, a rare place of safety for them, where they would be welcomed, accepted, and listened to. A couple of years ago, it featured on the TV programme Secret Millionaire: the homeless man that they thought was being filmed for a rehabilitation documentary turned out to be the bearer of a cheque for £25,000. Niki, the resili­ent worker who ran the scheme at the time, promptly burst into tears.

Sadly, some two years later (may­be because after the pro­gramme, iron­ically, people thought it was safe?), it closed through lack of funds.

WHAT was formerly Safe and Sorted is now a hairdresser's. But, hey, any new business in a parish such as ours should be welcomed; so, intrepidly, I thought I would visit it, and risk a three round the back and sides, and a spiked-up front. The staff at Mon­roe's, as it's called (its logo being the face of the eponymous Marilyn), were friendly and welcoming.

After chatting for a while, I found that Safe and Sorted was still making its presence felt: apparently, a few days before I came in, they were ex­pect­ing a delivery of hair dye, and, when they opened the box, instead of peroxide they found dozens of do-it-yourself testing kits for the STD chlamydia. I suggested that they branch out, but they did not seem keen.

Then I found out what Monroe's was really here for. The proprietor cares passionately about the victims of domestic violence: she deliber­ately employs beauticians and hair­dressers who try to build up the con­fidence of survivors who have escaped abusive relationships, and who are trying to nerve themselves to get back into the workplace.

In its own way, it is providing a ser­vice as valuable as - if very differ­ent from - that of the previous residents of the premises. I was hugely impressed, and will go back.

As I said, you never know what you are going to come across in our parish.

EVERY month for getting on for seven years now, I have gone to an Alzheimer's Unit to conduct a eucharist. My latest visit was moving and affecting, even though I was competing with Flog It! on the tele­vision in the adjoining room.

Of the 15 or so residents ranged around me, about five responded to the service - three of them (from memory, as I had forgotten the song sheets) singing their hearts out, and one clapping along (almost) in time to "And did those feet in ancient time". One or two take communion, but most have blessings.

It is a scene that happens daily, up and down the country, and I al­ways feel it is one of the most im­portant ways of fulfilling my priestly ministry.

MIND you, getting into the unit is always a challenge. I book a year's worth of dates in advance, and gen­erally try to remember to phone up in the morning to confirm. Nine times out of ten, though, the office person is new, and, bless'em, hasn't a clue who I am. When I say what I am doing, the response is bemused, but I am told to come anyway.

The time before last, it was I who ended up bemused: I breezed in, complete with do-it-yourself mass kit (at one time we included candles and incense as sensory stimulants, but Health and Safety saw those off), to be met by a nonplussed member of staff who, despite the phone call, had no idea I was coming.

"Father John," she said forlornly, "I'm afraid you can't do your service today: we've just organised a teddy bears' picnic." I smiled sweetly, went home, and had a nice cup of tea. In retrospect, I suppose I should have stayed and joined in, but I confess to having been rather thrown. At least I now know where I come in the occupational-therapy pecking order.

All together, now: "If you go down to the woods today. . ."

The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.

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