After the riots (3)... in the riot van

First published 12th September 2011

In the third of our "After the riots" series, Andy Paget, the senior police chaplain to Avon & Somerset Police reflects on the role of a chaplain in the middle of the riots conflict.

We talk in churches about the need to look outside our immediate concerns and to consider how our ministry makes a difference in the world and chaplaincy is one direct way in which many people get involved.

Andys reflections remind us of the human dimension so often hidden to the scenes we see on our TV screens and pose real opportunities for us as a Christian community as to how we become a community of wholeness with Christ at the centre.

This particular week began when, on my way home from a Sunday service, I spotted a group of firearms officers in full combat gear and a sergeant from the dog section. I parked my car and put on the necessary body armour. The sergeant recognised me and introduced me to the team leader.

Are you the hostage negotiator? he asked.

No, I replied, willing but unqualified. Happily the incident came to a non-violent conclusion.

As Bristol encountered its riots, I had the privilege of accompanying some of the response teams. I spent much of Tuesday night in a support vehicle with six dogs and seven handlers.

By Wednesday morning wed been deployed on a blue light run to Gloucester. Helmets, shields and pads were donned and the chatter faded into silence as we approached our destination. As Gloucester settled down, we were on standby to assist Birmingham, but this was not to be and we returned to Bristol at a more respectable speed.

Beneath the riot gear, the helmets, the pads, and behind the riot shields are human beings, preoccupied with the current operation, but facing many of the issues and tensions we face: the serious illness of a relative, the untimely death of a young family member, a broken relationship, shrinking finances, an uncertain future. The willingness to share these things during a refreshment break or some other quiet moment highlights for me the special trust we enjoy from people outside our sanctuaries, as we represent the faith communities who nurture and support us.

On the Saturday night, I was with four response officers looking for a woman who had threatened suicide. We found her distressed but unharmed, and took her to a local station for psychiatric appraisal.

Early Sunday morning, returning to base, I was told, It was good to have someone with us who really cares.

But dont be deceived. I find a lot of compassion already there within the police service. Part of our role is to recognise and affirm it.

The police and police staff who serve and protect our communities live with uncertainty, are often undervalued and are frequently maligned by the press. Lets pray for them and encourage them, but lets continue to walk with them through authentic presence ministry.

Andy Paget

Senior Chaplain

Avon & Somerset Police

Andy Paget is a team member of ISR which has a long history of training and supporting chaplains. Increasingly chaplains are lay volunteers from local churches, wanting to find an opportunity to put their faith to work in the world of work, just being there to support others. ISR has over seventy lay chaplains engaging with workplaces and while most do not experience the sort of drama that Andy Paget is reflecting on, it is the day to day expression of care and concern for others that is the hallmark of the ministry of chaplains.

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