reverend

Image © Copyright Garry Cook

Rev Andrew Allington, 51 when this image was taken, vicar. Photographed in Stainforth

 

outsidersFor the last decade Reverend Allington has been the parish vicar of St Mary’s Church in Stainforth, near
Doncaster.

 

The former colliery town has a population of around 7,000. In January, 2008, the vicar was attacked in his home by a teenager from the community he works in.

 

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Rev Andrew Allington says:

 

The doorbell rang at about eight o’clock at night. It was dark
outside. I went to the door, opened it, there was a lad there, had his hood up. He said, ‘I need your help vicar, can you help me? Can I come in?’ I said, ‘not really, not this time of night’. He said, ‘it’s my girlfriend, she’s threatening to kill herself’.


So I took a step outside to talk to him and he pushed me with his hands back through the front door and then kicked me in the torso to the ground. I knocked my head against the bottom of the stairs. Then, when I was getting up, he pulled a knife out and he said, ‘give me your wallet’. He’s come into the hall, shut the front door behind him. Everything went in slow motion a bit. I said, ‘I don’t keep a wallet’ because I keep my money in my back pocket. And then he said, ‘well don’t try anything’, as he waved his knife.


So I gave him the cash in my back pocket which is about 50 pounds. He said, ‘go in there’, which is the toilet off the hall. I went into the toilet he shut the door of the toilet behind me and then just scarpered.


It was all over pretty quick. I was obviously shocked at the time, but I thought, that’s it, quite exciting. But I didn’t realise how shock worked. About two or three days later even a few weeks later I realised I have suffered shock from it. It’s not so much fear, it’s the
adrenaline when you’re faced with the situation and then the adrenaline wears off and you start thinking of might happened. And just the nature of physical assault. I’ve never been physically assaulted before. It leaves you feeling humiliated. Then there’s the anger you feel from that, and dealing with that.


He was in his mid 20s. He’s obviously got a drug or alcohol problem and needed cash. There was loads of things he could have taken, laptop computer, mobile phone. But he just wanted cash so, obviously, he could get his fix.


I think I know who it is. I actually know his father. His father comes to our street supper which we run for people with problems. People have said that it’s unbelievable that it should happen to a vicar but it does happen.


Teachers, all professionals, firemen going to put out fires, they are all getting the same agro. But particularly with people with drug and alcohol problems they are not thinking straight, they are only thinking about their next fix. They would do it to their own grandmother at some point. When they are in a desperate situation they sometimes would do anything.


I think many teenagers don’t have a connection with the rest of society, that’s the problem. In France and the rest of Europe there is a much stronger culture of teenagers and children doing things together with their families. I think this is where the drink problem comes in. That’s not happening in Britain. Children are left to do their own thing. And sometimes when the parents are drinking at home they’re encouraging their children to drink too much at home as well.

 

The mining communities have a particular strong culture of drinking which, when you are working long hours down the pit, isn’t too much of a problem because you are burning it off. But when you are unemployed and you continue in that drinking pattern… we have a significantly lower life expectancy in Stainforth to the communities next door which is about mining and problems with health in this community.


Young people in working-class cultures are picking up this culture of drinking from their parents and then there’s the drug problem. Although it’s there in middle-class communities, they can afford to cover it up better.


In working-class communities, when you haven’t got the finances and the resources to do that, it comes out more in burglaries. And that behaviour affects the whole community.


When I first came, the kids saw me in the garden and they’re very bold as brass round here and they asked if I had any jobs to do, like washing the car and things. And very early on some girls said, ‘can we cook your tea?’, because they saw I was on my own and they assumed that men can’t cook. I agreed to it and then quickly realised that I was going to have to set some boundaries around that. So basically they can book in on a Monday or a Thursday tea time. They have to have a parental consent form and we always have a lady from church come to help me and is present. There is always two adults present.


Over the last six or seven years we’ve had over 160 children from the age of four to the age of 16 come in, three or four at a time. We help them cook a meal and we eat together. They like the rituals like we hold hands and say grace. It’s like the Walton’s. We bang a gong when the meals ready.


It’s very hard to keep them pinned to the table during the meal because they’re not used to sitting round and having a meal together. But I’ve learned an enormous amount about their lives and their culture, about what significance sharing a meal with people has and how it breaks down barriers. Simply sharing a meal with people. They’ve asked for things like saying prayers – they’re not church kids – they like lighting candles, or little rituals, saying prayers.


Coming from a more middle-class background, a secure family environment, I’ve been pretty horrified – I’ve tried not to show it, how shocked I’ve been. Stories of violence, you know of families with several fathers all of who are absent. Siblings, all of different parents.

 

It helps me to realise we’ve become disaffected and to see them as real human beings. There’s no children with problems, there’s families or adults with problems and they get put on to the kids growing up.
A lot of what I try to do, and we try to do as a church in this community, is to do things to try and break down that suspicion.


So we do things to meet the needs of the community without asking anything back. We run a film. We don’t charge anything to come in. We run a free meal for people with drug and alcohol problems. We’re not expecting them to come to church. People have said to me, ‘well, shouldn’t you make it a condition that they come to Sunday school or church?’.


We try and do a lot of things which from a faith point of view I’d say is reflected in what Jesus did which was to heal people and reach out to people on the edges of society.


I think the danger is if you try and get it to grow too much overnight you just do it superficially, you do it based on entertainment, it doesn’t go any deeper. It doesn’t really go into relationships, the way people live their lives, changing what’s unhealthy and what’s destructive. That’s much more important to me than church
attendance.