Keith Hitchman is Pioneer Minister for Liverpool City Centre (Diocese of Liverpool) and Force Chaplain with Merseyside Police. Keith explains how his work has evolved in the city over the past two years.
The vision for River in the City is to explore new ways of being and becoming 'Church' for people who work, relax, and live in Liverpool city centre and beyond. So it was that my focus shifted away from the Liverpool ONE shopping and leisure centre to wider work in the city centre as a whole.
I was asked by Fr Steven Brookes at Liverpool Parish Church if I would partner with him in helping to regenerate a City Leaders' Breakfast that had been hosted by the Rector of Liverpool for over 50 years.
Prior to my appointment in April 2010, the Rector of Liverpool had joined forces with Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral and the Metropolitan Cathedral to give this event more weight and impetus. In 2011 the City Leaders' Breakfast was re-launched with high profile speaker, Philip Blond – Anglican theologian, political philosopher and head of the ResPublica Think Tank. The event was a great success with over 80 business leaders in attendance. In October last year we had another breakfast at which Lord Boateng was the guest speaker. On March 19 we will welcome Peter Price-Thomas, global expert on sustainable business and founder of the Eco Church initiative.
In organising these events I have worked closely with the Aurora Media PR Consultancy and have been asked to be a member of a city network committed to forging a shared future vision for a sustainable and prosperous Liverpool City Region.
In another development we have seen the launch of RiverArts, a network of people who are interested in the interface between the arts and faith. I co-lead the network with Rev Ellen Loudon and we meet about six times a year for a presentation, a practical workshop or an act of worship.
In the city centre I work closely with Tim Meadows, Liverpool city centre minister for the URC. Together we have started a fortnightly Sunday gathering, The Portal. Our aim is for it to be an open and inclusive expression of church, yet currently The Portal is a gathering of missional leaders from various denominations who are interested in exploring emergent forms of church. Tim and I spoke about our work at the Service of Reconciliation, Healing of Memories and Mutual Commitment for the Church of England and the United Reformed Church at Westminster Abbey.
One of my remits when I arrived was to assist and nurture the leadership of Riverforce, a Christian support network for Merseyside Police. The Chief Constable, Jon Murphy, had approached Peter Owens, a former Chief Inspector and now part of the Merseyside Police Occupational Health Trust, and asked him to help form a multi-faith and ecumenical chaplaincy service for Riverforce. Peter then approached me and over a period of a year we put in the necessary structures for this to happen. In July 2011 the Merseyside Police Chaplaincy Service was formed to provide practical and spiritual support to Merseyside Police staff regardless of their personal faith or belief.
I am the force chaplain and the service comprises a team of 11 volunteer Chaplains, including a Muslim chaplain and a Jewish chaplain, covering each of the force's six Basic Command Units/Policing Areas.
Christians are meeting regularly in small groups within the force but these meetings tend to be organic rather than structured in the current economic climate due to the rapid deployment of officers and civilian employees. There are four larger gatherings a year, some of which are celebrations. Our next meeting will be a panel discussion on restorative justice in Easter week. These events have anything up to 100 people coming along, including police officers, civilian staff, street pastors, probation officers and members of Prison Fellowship too. So we are talking in terms of the wider police family.
The Chaplaincy is involved in regular pastoral care and we have also started a listening and coaching service working with other support networks in the force.
Liverpool City Centre Street Pastors was initiated by Merseyside Police Inspector Greg Lambert, Neighbourhood Inspector for the city centre. He approached Nick Tissot, Ascension Trust Representative for Merseyside about setting up Street Pastors; Nick then came to me and the Rev Jane McKelvey of St Mark's Childwall, The three of us got it going and we now have 40 Street Pastors working alongside Merseyside Police and the Council in Liverpool City Centre, patrolling every Saturday night into Sunday morning. Our goal is to train and commission 100 Street Pastors for city centre work which would include working on Friday nights and on Saturday afternoons with youths who congregate in certain areas of the city centre. We are also looking at the potential for Club Angels.
In its structure it reflects the idea of the 'River in the City', in that MPCS is based at Police HQ in Canning Place (Liverpool ONE), and flows out from there to the rest of the city, and beyond.
The Diocese of Liverpool has adopted the imagery of Lake and River to highlight not only mixed economy but of a working closely together, hand in hand, merging together in ministry and mission. Lakes tend to form in settled places, where they become an oasis to the life around them. In the same way, our parish churches offer an oasis and source of life to the community around. Rivers are often still connected to lakes, but are free to flow wherever the ground gives way into many more and different places. Very often new forms of church flow beyond the neighbourhood and into various networks, such as the workplace and the night-time economy.
The Christian chaplains are ordained and lay ministers in churches in the areas in which they are deployed as chaplains – that's pure 'lake' and 'river' working! Police officers have already attended churches in these areas as a result of the chaplains being there. The way we have set up the Street Pastors is as the extended church, it's Christians working together cross denominationally with members of the other Abrahamic faith traditions. The emphasis is on unity and diversity with a strapline of Serving the Force, Serving the City.
I have been greatly impressed by the openness of Merseyside Police Force to the Chaplaincy; this openness can be seen in their approach to faith, equality and diversity. Police officers often feel misunderstood and marginalised in the course of their work. To follow Christ is to care for the misunderstood and the marginalised.