Biccies, banter, bacon butties and bikes
The Reverend Christopher Harrigan might not, as he says himself, seem like everyone’s first idea of a poster boy for the priesthood.
A former architect, last year he was ordained, bought a motorbike and was appointed as a deacon in Redruth.
It’s there, at St Andrew’s Church, that he runs a new project, funded by the Diocese of Truro, offering local people a warm and friendly space to spend Monday mornings – with a cooked breakfast and elevenses thrown in.
“We wanted to reach out to local families and to anyone who’s at home on their own, to say – there’s no need to be cold, no need to be hungry, the church is active, we love our community, we want to help,” Chris explains, with characteristic passion for his faith and for his mission.
The first week, in early January, only a couple of people turned up. They’ve nearly doubled their numbers each week since then. The initiative is scheduled to continue till the end of April.
But helping just one person would have been enough for Chris.
“I remember saying to the Bishop,” he says, “if just one person walks through the door, then I know I’ve done my job.”
Now the same people come along each week, and, promoted by local word-of-mouth, their numbers continue to grow.
“We’re slowly hearing their stories and learning about their lives,” Chris says. “Sometimes we can offer advice and support. Sometimes they just come in for a bacon butty and a chat.”
Between 8.00 and 9.30am, Chris and his team provide a breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, a roll and a cup of tea. Vegan options are also available. For the rest of the morning, toast, biscuits and hot drinks are on offer.
The initiative is staffed entirely by volunteers from the congregation of St Andrew’s. However, the people who come each week aren’t members of that Sunday congregation. They’re not necessarily even Christian.
“But we’re doing church on a Monday morning,” Chris says. “It just happens to look different. But it’s the same invitation, acceptance and grace.
“These difficult times have opened up opportunities for hope and for the church to shine – to do what it does best, an open door and a kind ear. We’ve set up a place of haven and a signpost to hope in the darkness of our time. It’s not just about a warm space. It’s a safe space.”
The project has connected with local agencies, charities and schools. They are on a list of places the local council advises people to go to for help and support. When they can’t provide the answers themselves, they can find who people would need to talk to.
“We offer an ear and a heart,” Chris says.
His team of volunteers are just as enthusiastic and committed.
“It’s good fun,” says Marion. “There’s a lot of banter going on.”
“It’s fantastic,” adds Joan. “It’s the church working as it should.”
“What I’ve noticed is that everyone now knows each other,” says David. “They all support each other. They’ve all got so many different stories tell.”
It’s certainly true that on Monday mornings the church is now buzzing with friendly chatter.
The volunteers are similarly excited by the ways in which Chris and their rector the Reverend Caspar Bush have been working to transform and renew worship at St Andrew’s.
“We have an informal Sunday service once a month,” David explains. “The children are very involved in that. Last time, there were 17 children there.”
And, the previous Sunday, David added, their congregation had been joined for the first time by two people who’d first become involved in the church by coming along to the Monday breakfast sessions.
“Transformed by the grace of God”
Although Chris may not always look like a typical member of the clergy, it seems clear that his parishioners have quickly come to appreciate his approach and to accept him for who he is. One praises the changes he’s helped to introduce at St Andrew’s. Another simply calls him “amazing”.
“When I’m at the altar, I’m not the cheeky biker from East London,” he says. “I’m their priest. There’s something ontological going on. The congregation understands that transformation.
“Once you put on a priestly robe, you are transformed. You see the world differently, you connect with the world differently.
“But that’s also something that happens to all Christians. We are all transformed by the grace of God.”