Chaplaincy: ‘Come and sit over here!’

Sometimes I wonder, what on earth am I doing? Not just regarding chaplaincy! But here I am, rushing out to a pub foodie night, after promising the manager that I would turn up.Revd Elaine Hutchinson, Retail Chaplain in Birmingham

I’m late (as usual) and feeling really guilty and trying to be inconspicuous as I arrive at the event. ‘Good intentions’ a great name for a pub and it’s holding a foodie night, trying to encourage people to enjoy food while socialising at the pub. “It’s a new initiative. Hopefully we’ll get more people into the pub”, explains Roz, the assistant manager, who just happens to also be an excellent chief and has been serving up amazing dishes and catering for all sorts of events. Roz thinks it might just be good for business given the times we’re in.

So, I hang around thinking maybe I could’ve been better off at home, I feel a bit out of my comfort zone. I chat to Roz’s partner who is also helping with the event, but they’re both busy so I order a drink and sit outside.

I’m really tempted to go home. I’ve shown my face, ordered a drink, will buy some food then leave, that’s what I’m contemplating and still feeling guilty for having missed most of the event as I sit and sip my cider.

There’s a couple sitting outside, and they shout over to me, come and sit over here!

Now, maybe it’s my collar or maybe they feel sorry for me. Whatever the reason, they invite me over and I’m not one for refusing an invite so I’m intrigued and go over.

Shirley and Justin (name changed for obvious reasons) both work at the Law courts and they’ve heard of the foodie event.

Shirley has just finished a bottle of wine and orders another. “It’s been a busy day” she sighs and Justin is sipping what smells like whisky. They both look tired. “Are you a real minister?” Justin asks.

“No, I’m just pretending!” I reply. We all laugh and then the conversation ranges from faith to Black Lives Matter to favourite meals. Phew! Now I really want to go home. Justin goes to the bar, and I’m left alone with Shirley.

She asks “does it make you happy?” I’m puzzled, not sure what she means. “Does God, your faith, make you happy?” she speaks quietly and I realise that we’ve got until Justin returns. I pause. It depends on what you mean by happy. If you mean do-I-get-everything-I-want ‘happy’ then no, God doesn’t make me happy –  in fact God can make me very unhappy. I wonder if that was the right thing to say.

Shirley continues: “I’ve tried everything, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses. My mom’s very religious but I’m not sure.” I’m digging deep to find something profound to say, but that’s really about me, not about Shirley so I continue to listen. “Do you have a contact number? I would like to continue this conversation”, Shirley asks. I give her my card, Justin returns and that’s it, the conversation moves on to other things.

I still wonder at times what I am doing, but felt that at this particular moment, listening to Shirley grapple with faith was the right place to be chaplaincy, holy ground… sipping cider.

’Nuff, blessings!

Revd Elaine Hutchinson
be.friend Team Leader and Chaplain to the Great Western Arcade

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