During April, reports arrive on the desks of SEI staff from those who have been supervising students on placement over the past six months or so. In the first year, these placements are always in community contexts; thereafter they may be in charges, chaplaincies or further community settings, whichever setting is deemed most appropriate for the candidate. In the first of three articles we share the experiences of two students who are training for the Vocational Diaconate, first year Diocese of Brechin candidate Enza Gibson and third year Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway candidate Jackie Fenton.
Jackie writes of her experience setting up a Warm Community Hub at Christ Church Lanark:
For the first few months of my time in Clydesdale I had an idea firmly fixed in my head of what I would like to do based on my work experience in narcotics prior to studying for ordination. This, however, led nowhere, so I had to discern what God was calling me to do in a different way. It was almost as if God was saying to me – don’t impose what you want to do here; observe more subtly where I am already at work and join in with me. I took this on board. Talking to people in the town and listening to what they thought was needed, the focus of my attention changed from drugs rehabilitation to the creation of a warm and pastoral space.
As a result of this change in focus I got in touch with social workers, community psychiatric nurses and other community workers to rally support. I applied for grants to local councillors and the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, enlisted the help and support of members of the congregation, and requested donations of soup to provide something warm to eat at our Thursday meetings from 12 noon until 3 pm. The local Church of Scotland minister kindly agreed to help with the production of leaflets and flyers so that the word could be spread as widely as possible about the facility we were offering.
At our first opening early in March there were seven people in the hall. A good time was had by all; games were played, food shared, conversations had, pastoral and spiritual care given and received. I give thanks for this wonderful opportunity to serve God and the Community of Clydesdale and to grow in my understanding of the diaconal vocation to which I am called. (Numbers attending the project have since grown; and Jackie will continue to work therein as she serves her Title at Christ Church).
My placement was at the MAXwell Centre, Dundee, an area in which there are high levels of drug and alcohol addiction, crime, abuse, debt, unemployment and mental health difficulties. I started at the Cosy Space afternoon sessions, to which members of the local community of all ages come to take part in activities, access hot food and drinks, find company and combat loneliness. A support worker is always on hand to signpost additional support and there is also a community larder on the premises. Some of those coming into the Centre are in crisis and distressed; staff and volunteers help them to feel at ease through active listening and non-judgemental support, building up trusting relationships. I found it particularly humbling that the people coming to the Centre were open and honest about their plight, life history and the background to their present situations.
But there is also much joy and hope. The Centre provides a safe space for children in the community garden and garden schoolroom. There they are taught about growing food, and how to care for and enjoy what nature has to offer. Older children are taught how to harvest and cook the vegetables grown in the garden and provide a monthly ‘Come dine with me’ evening meal for some of the elderly in the area. Some of the adults who live in the high flats in the area come and help in the garden, and learn about the plants, flowers and fruit, harvesting these to take home.
I was able to hear at first-hand many of the challenges and issues that members of the local community face. Through the wide range of dignified help and support available, the community project offers individuals the opportunity to take control of their lives by being able to address the difficult day-to-day issues affecting them; it aims to break down barriers and to bring people together in an environment that promotes interaction and integration, empowering them to improve their lives and the place in which they live. I was very privileged to be part of this and am very grateful for having had my placement at the MAXwell Centre. I continue to volunteer there.
Photos courtesy of Jackie Fenton and Enza Gibson