Friday, 20 March 2015

St Petroc's

Most of my time here in the Stithians Community House is spent studying theology, planning for a Sunday or midweek event, or helping out with day to day parish activities. But once a week, I disappear off on my motorcycle to Truro to my Friday placement. This term, that placement’s at St Petroc’s homeless charity.
St Petroc’s is a charity that began 25 years ago in Cornwall for those experiencing homelessness. They have a number of houses around the county where clients can live together in supported housing, engage in outreach work to meet and help those living on the street, and operate a drop-in centre in Truro where clients can get a shower and a change of clothes, do laundry, use the internet and phone and get help with financial, housing and health issues. It’s at this drop-in centre that I’ve been working since January.
The work itself is fairly routine: I either operate the front desk, or help with paperwork; sort donations or help clients with laundry or personal storage. It’s all simple stuff. What I’ve appreciated is the opportunity to get outside my nice comfortable bubble and hear the stories of people who have faced true struggles for survival. They’re incredibly tenacious. Many of them had fairly normal lives before a traumatic event triggered a downward spiral. Marital breakdown is a common issue; people have suffered the emotional trauma of divorce, spiralled into depression or alcoholism, lost their job and their home and ended up broke, homeless and trapped by addictions. What’s even harder is that the original trauma hasn’t disappeared, and their present difficulties make it even more difficult to process the pain of that event.
Others have grown up in extreme and difficult circumstances: parented by addicts or alcoholics, plagued by mental health issues, handed a rough deal and expected to somehow make it work. The most common thing I hear, when clients talk about their lives, is, “Sometimes, life throws crap at you.” There’s no attempt to spin it or idealise it. No drawing of healthy ‘life lessons’ from the pain. Just a simple acknowledgement that sometimes, bad things happen; sometimes, decisions have been made which, mixed with chance, have landed you in a stinking mess; and you can’t always haul yourself out of that. Life is complicated. Life is hard.
This is something which as Christians we’re not always great at acknowledging. Often, we want to spin the story so that God comes out on top, so we draw the light from the darkness and the moral from the parable. But some stories aren’t like that. Sometimes the only thing you can do is sit in the darkness alongside someone and acknowledge that the light isn’t there. Acknowledge that pain exists, an it hurts.
It’s hard working at St Petroc’s. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s long and it’s high stress and you’re constantly face to face with frequently inebriated, often angry individuals under a great deal of strain. Frankly, if I’d just spent a cold night on a hard pavement and woken up hungry with nothing in the bank, I’d be angry and stressed too. The staff are incredibly patient and compassionate, while maintaining clear and strict boundaries. I have a lot of respect for them, because I know I leave each evening feeling utterly exhausted; the way they go to work day in day out, calmly accepting all the setbacks and chaos and police and ambulances and fights and paperwork and government agencies – it’s simply incredible. I hope that by the time my placement is through, I have a quarter of the compassion and patience that they do.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

February Update

I'm not entirely sure where February went; it's lost to me in a haze of cocktails, sleep deprivation and motorcycle crashes. Which is fairly close to how I stumbled into March this morning, blearily hauling myself from deep sleep, wrapping myself into my luminously white robes, and using the excuse of an all-age worship service to blackmail Father Simon into doing thirty star-jumps, fully robed, in front of the whole church.

A number of significant changes have occurred however, in the forgotten mist of February. The first and is that fellow intern Ben has left the community. The community aspect of this is really hard work trying to get it off the ground. This is why, I'm reminded, communities take a long time to get going. Because people are so different, and have such different expectations, and unless you have a miracle of personality dovetailing, you drive each other nuts and get confused and pull in different directions.

The second change is that - hooray! - I'm off my drugs. Thus far coming off the antidepressants has resulted in:
1. Insane amounts of itching. Oh my gosh, so much itching. I feel like a thirteenth century peasant. I want to find some excellent scratching post and rub against it like a shaggy furred bear, possibly humming to myself with a pot of honey.
2. Staying awake past ten o'clock. Quelle horreur! I had forgotten what this was like! I now not only occasionally witness midnight, I also wake up before my alarm in the morning. What is this newfound daylight! Unfortunately I'm also not sleeping so much in between those hours, but I'm assured this will pass.
3. Not wanting to eat the entire world and every carb that has ever grown in it. I feel like Cecil the Caterpillar after he's been sick. This is incredible. So much food - without wanting to stuff it in my mouth!

Another listed side effect of coming off is 'suicidal thoughts and depression more severe than it was prior to taking the antidepressants'. Wtf?! Thankfully I have not experienced this, but I can't help feeling this is along the lines of 'oh yeah, we'll fix your leg, but after we take the cast off it's going to be less walkable on than when you broke it, fyi.'

Other than that, life is ticking over, the internship is getting more and more interesting - I'm much more involved now in just two churches; deaconing and serving most Sundays, preaching, leading a lent group and other bits and pieces. We've just launched Messy Church in Stithians, which got off to a cracking start, and we've appointed a new Team Vicar who'll ease Father Simon's somewhat unbearable workload a little. Eight parishes is a lot to be getting on with when you're understaffed.

I'll keep this short, but I promise I will try to be better at updating in the future, and try not to lose a whole month to cocktails and mud...