I’m a week into my time down here in London and to mark the occasion I hung out with some young offenders and then went and chatted in a production office of a porn channel! I think I can say my placement has properly kicked off now. Placements are meant to give you a taste of ministry in different areas and get you to ask questions of how you’d minister in diverse contexts and today got me asking questions about who I am and how I communicate God.
I’ll briefly talk about the work of InterMission at St Saviour’s Church in Knightsbridge aand I say briefly because I’m going to have a chat with the founder and chaplain Rob Gillion later this week. I was invited to go and watch their Youth Theatre work and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. On my arrival I was greeted by Janine (Rob Gillion’s wife) who is the Production Manager of the company and a mother figure for the young people. The Youth Theatre is made of young offenders who have been referred by Social Services or who have heard about it from other members. The Artistic Director, Darren Raymond, an actor who has walked the walk of these young people, has a great passion for the work of InterMission and does a wonderful job of befriending and walking alongside his company. What struck me about the work of this company is that they have fleshed out ideas I have had on ‘theatre church’ and have achieved a great place. Darren’s attitude to creating a space where actors can take off the masks and be themselves is exactly what I want to achieve in my placement this year.
I’ll go into more detail about this ministry when I have met and chatted to Rob. I’m also going to be a part of their evening service tomorrow which I’m intrigued as to how they ‘do’ an evening service with the creative, theatre element added in; particularly as Janine suggested there might be ‘three old ladies and a dog’!
After a conversation with an ex-Muslim guy and participated in an impromptu discussion with some of the young people on Islam I received a text from an old friend who I have known for some years. He was back in London for the weekend and invited me to come and have a drink whilst he waited for a meeting at work. I hadn’t seen him in ages and so jumped at the chance of going to chat to him. As I approached his office in Soho I remembered what this area of London is famous for and immediately was faced with the question, if this was my ‘patch’ how would I engage with my ‘parishioners’?
Soho, for those who don’t know, is a centre of the sex industry in London with strip clubs, sex shops and brothels. I walked up one street with the bright lights and shiny appearances juxtaposed with the dirty, damp streets and women standing looking… ‘dispossessed’. Two women, one who looked about sixty another fifty, one with crutches, both dressed in their professions usual uniform, looked lost, miserable, disillusioned and my heart ached. This is not a way to live, surely. Walking the streets were the usual myriad of humanity that find themselves within the same locale in London the ones who were loitering more than others were those with ashen faces, gaunt through drug use and I was acutely aware that this was a place where you ‘end up’ rather than choosing to live. How do you, as a Christian minister, engage with these people? How do you ‘befriend’ them like Darren and InterMission are doing with young offenders? What is it that God wants to give them and say to them? How do you speak to them of the love of God?
My friend works for a TV porn channel, although he did point out that they can’t show anything that the BBC can’t show. After a nice drink, catching up on his new life outside of London and the usual plans for the immediate future, we walked back to his office, upstairs in a two roomed space. One room had a desk, a kitchenette and a toilet; it was strewn with underwear and material to drape on the sets. The other room was the set, a camera, monitors, computer link up and production equipment… I didn’t go in! We sat talking about his plans to start a new company investing in corporate videos and the conversation got onto his current position. He isn’t proud of the work he does but it has given him experience of running a company and has made him some good contacts in television production.
It’s not what my parents dreamed of!
The question was asked,
What do you think of it all, Ned?
My mind raced with a thousand thoughts. I was reminded of the discoveries I was making in Earls Court where there are a large collections of brothels in a small area and where police have just announced some properties being used for sex trafficking. I remembered the faces of the women I had passed on the streets below and thought of my friend… He is not what you’d think of as a ‘pimp’ in any stretch of the imagination. What was happening in this space, I commented, was not exploitative in the same way as the sex trafficking and forced sex slavery being perpetrated across the capital. Was it exploitative in another way though? The women, employed by this channel, were in control of what they were doing. They were protected and paid fairly. They chose to be involved in the work and could leave at anytime. One woman had got a job in an estate agent’s and was moving on. I’m not saying that what was happening was right and/or what God would deem ‘holy’ but I was aware that there were ‘bigger fish to fry’.
I’m aware that I am natural drawn to city based ministries because of the theatre connection. If I am to minister to the theatre community then I will need to live and work in a city where there are a collection of theatres. This will mean that I am to come into contact with and asked to engage with this industry. How do I respond?
What I do know is, ‘divine judgement’ will not work. It needs to be a commitment to serving them in need. The phrase that comes to mind is ‘to be in this world but not of this world.’ To show the respect and love that people who find themselves in this industry deserve as children of God. To create a space where they can be safe and treated as people, to protect them against injustice and abuse, to fight for them.
I’m trying desperately to find the way of saying what I’m about to say without sounding crude…I’ll say it anyway and ask for your forgiveness…
I’m excited about tackling these issues and knowing that Christ would be there in the strip clubs, sex shops and brothels calling his daughters by name and where Christ is I want to be!
I guess my final question of myself is how would a church, using theatre, be able to help this industry see God? I’m reminded of a piece of theatre performed in the North East earlier this year which, using their own stories, prostitutes performed a play. The rehearsals of this show must have been releasing experiences. I’m also reminded of the work of cardboard citizens who work with homeless people and asylum seekers some of whom have found themselves caught up in trafficking and prostitution. To add to this work the power of God and to allow His Spirit to work in the process would be really exciting.
Maybe, while I’m down in London, I should look into the work of Cardboard Citizens…