A change of direction

As 1979 dawned I withdrew from the parish work of a vicar and embarked on a ministry at the interface between Church and Society. At a personal level this called for a number of changes. We were no longer provided with a clergy-house but, like others had to buy our own home, with the attendant responsibilities from which I had previously been absolved. We were driven by a new agenda: my stipend was replaced with a salary; I was less cocooned by the security of the church; I had office hours to keep, a daily commute, without a defined position in a local community.

I was designated “Director”, i.e. chief executive, of the Council for Christian Care (CCC) – a registered charitable company covering Devon. This had been set up by the various Christian denominations to serve their social concerns. Central to this was an Adoption Agency and the former Deaf Mission, both of which represented historic and respected Christian welfare work. In addition Social Responsibility was a new initiative which, though poorly understood, aimed to raise awareness of, and reflect theologically on issues facing society.

I arrived as big social and political changes were taking place. New legislation had to be followed and new opportunities were to be seized. The various stages of the Children Act meant that only qualified social workers could work in adoption and we had to satisfy new requirements. We were fortunate to have Julie in post, a senior social worker who guided us through these processes and changes. Welfare staff, albeit experienced, had to be let go and registered social workers had to be engaged. The Adoption Panel had to follow new procedures; archives had to be maintained to exacting standards. I found myself representing the churches with County Social and Probation Services.

CCC’s Deaf Department broadened its brief to include not only religious services and pastoral care for deaf people but also social work support and training in such things as lip-reading and sign language, extending awareness of hearing loss to the churches. The government was urging businesses to assist staff and clients with hearing impairment and we found ourselves a lead agency for this work. The scope of this department eventually widened to include the whole spectrum of disability awareness, equality and accessibility.

Social issues

These were days of rising homelessness, poverty and unemployment. Public awareness was being raised by the media and by any number of reports. Government initiatives followed in their wake. Funding was made available through such bodies as the Housing Corporation (HC) and the Manpower Services Commission (MSC). Much of this was under short-term programmes and served to massage negative statistics but gave the CCC opportunities to embark on a wide range of projects.

Under its charitable status CCC applied for funds and provided legal cover for initiatives on behalf of local churches and voluntary groups. It thus became involved in night shelters in Plymouth and Barnstaple, women’s refuges in South and North Devon, hostels for young people in the centre of the County. It was engaged in setting up a family mediation service and an access centre for children of separated parents. Largest of all was a county-wide MSC programme for hundreds of unemployed people engaged on various tasks and training schemes.

The National Health Service was going through one of its periodic re-organisations and the Area Health Authority identified the need for palliative care, particularly for those with terminal cancers. However no NHS funds were available to extend this. The CCC chairman, the Bishop of Crediton, Philip Pasterfield commissioned a report on this and the need for a hospice was established. Initially a home nursing service was started under the auspices of CCC, until sufficient funds were in place to establish its own identity. This has since become a fine hospice serving Exeter and district.

I travelled constantly around Devon to committee meetings, linking with officials and local supporters, raising funds and preaching at churches in an attempt to raise awareness of our work with our supporting constituency. I also travelled to central meetings in London and co-operated with colleagues in other parts of the country, becoming founding secretary of the Anglican Association for Social Responsibility.

Our headquarters was a former vicarage in central Exeter and we had the support of hard-working administrative colleagues. Keeping the operation financed was a constant battle and there was a real risk that we would lose sight of our essential theological task. Funding became available to appoint a Social Responsibility Officer, Martyn, a committed and able educator/activist whose work continues still.

Steps towards the future

Shortly after my arrival a priest-psychotherapist who worked from the Exeter office retired. He closed down his practice with clients but a few remained for follow-up sessions. Drawing on my earlier Clinical Theology and group dynamics training I saw these clients and took on a few more of my own. I was glad to do some personal pastoral work alongside my more administrative duties and continued my studies by taking the sex therapy course offered through Exeter University.

Other opportunities occurred alongside my work for CCC:

I had personal contacts with the Netherlands and drew on these to undertake a study tour to see how Dutch churches related to Society. Soon afterwards I was asked to act as clerk to official conversations between the Church of England and the Dutch Reformed Church.

During the eighties HIV/AIDS was identified and the area health authority sent me on a training course to explore pastoral opportunities with patients in Devon.

PHAB (Physically Handicapped/Able Bodied) a national network of youth groups was exploring the spiritual dimensions of their work and I was drawn into this research.

Some counsellors wanting to establish a co-ordinated service, asked us to facilitate the process. Elizabeth an experienced practitioner recently retired took a lead in establishing Devon Pastoral Counsellors.

The decade at CCC had given me a unique if demanding experience of church and society. Like society itself the agency had gone through great change and the political map had altered too. The trustees decided that an Administrator was now called for. The post of Director was made redundant early in 1989.

During my period of unemployment I pulled together these varied experiences by undertaking a Professional Development course at Southampton University and so began my path towards private practice as a counsellor and consultant.

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WAREHAM: 1964-1968