Many places have a town centre manager or, like Winchester, a Business Improvement District team, who look after the economic and practical needs of the people who work in the city.
Winchester’s City Centre Chaplaincy mirrors this by caring for their spiritual and emotional well-being. Churches Together in Winchester caught up with the city’s lead chaplain, Debbie Veel, to ask her about their work.
“Over the years, the church has often been accused, probably rightly, of living in an ivory tower. Everyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus is to serve people in their communities, to do as Jesus did when he washed his disciples’ feet. That, metaphorically, is what city centre chaplains do: we are here to listen and support people, particularly in their workplace.”
A chaplain’s typical day might start by sharing bacon rolls with Hampshire County Council staff: chatting about their work issues, what’s going on with their families or activities in their own lives. “We pray together about all of these and any other specific needs,” says Debbie.
This might be followed by similar conversations and prayers with the city council, police and the owners and staff of a host of shops, cafes, offices, estate agents and other businesses.
Debbie says it is a privilege and a blessing to share in the highs and lows of people’s lives. “One lady tells me that things are better after an acrimonious split with her business partner. Others say they or their relatives are getting married, so I have the chance to pray a blessing on their marriages. People share lots of things with the chaplains. The team and I listen and provide a friendly ear. We are free, confidential and non-judgemental – listening to people of all faiths or none.”
It’s not all good news. “These days, we pray for people facing redundancy or relocation as some city centre shops and businesses close. It may also be about relationships, family, money or health issues.
“One of my first tasks was to lead a memorial service for a lady who had died suddenly. Her friends and colleagues wanted to commemorate her life and their friendship, by planting a tree and having a plaque. I read a poem and a piece of scripture by the babbling waters of the Itchen. They shared their memories as we laid pebbles around the tree. A day which was a privilege to be part of and very beautiful.”
A resident of Basingstoke herself, Debbie says she has faced two major challenges. The first is the Winchester hills, which make walking from place to place very tiring (she does around 3.5 miles a day around the city). The other is the delicious cake she is tempted by at every café on her beat. “I really have to try not to have a brownie in every single establishment and I certainly don’t want to favour one business over another!”
Debbie has a team of volunteers from different city churches and traditions. They meet regularly to pray for one another and all share a feeling of warmth towards the city: “I am richly blessed and encouraged by the chaplains, the management team and the people in the churches around the city who pray regularly for us as individuals and for the work of the whole chaplaincy.”
If you work in the city centre, the chaplains are there for you. They will listen to what delights you or what hurts in your life – large or small, significant or insignificant. Debbie concludes, “We do not promise to have all the answers, but are there to listen, support, pray and care. That’s what chaplaincy is about … bringing God’s love and Jesus’ example of service to folk wherever they are in their daily life.”
To find out more and to contact the chaplaincy, please visit https://winccc.org.uk/.
THE CHAPLAINCY IN NUMBERS
Open to over 800 organisations in the city
Chaplains made over 11,000 visits in 2016
Met 3,500 employees – many of them on several occasions
Engaged in substantial, confidential conversations with around 700 people