ST MARY and St John, Cowley, in Oxford, has an
unusually large churchyard that has, in recent years, been
developed as a wildlife space. Volunteers gather to work there once
a week, and while the churchyard provides a refuge for the
homeless, it also attracts a number of street-drinkers, drug
addicts, and prostitutes.
The churchyard warden, Daniel Emlyn-Jones, feels that the
church's "presence ministry" should extend to these
churchyard-users, who are often, he says, vulnerable people. So,
while he goes about his daily tasks of maintenance, he tries to
"positively engage" with them.
"This experience has taught me that, behind the rowdiness, such
vulnerable groups are often warm-hearted, friendly, wise, and in
desperate need of love; and, for me, their presence on holy ground
harkens back to the old ideas of people claiming sanctuary in
Not that he is soft on anti-social
behaviour, and the people he will not tolerate are drug-dealers.
To give an idea of the variety of his life, he says that, on one
shift, "I showed some visiting Russian Orthodox priests around the
church, talked to some street drinkers, helped a visiting couple
find the grave of a relative, and reported some drug dealers to the
When the volunteers gather for their weekly session of improving
the churchyard, and then stop for tea, some of these more
unorthodox users join them (above), despite some people's
doubts that this might encourage "anti-social behaviour". Mr
Emlyn-Jones sees it as a proper expression of Christian love.
He has had to deal with the occasional fight, and a couple of
times has had to call the police. But he still feels that this
Christian presence in the churchyard is an important part of the