The night scene of any town or city can get pretty disorientating when your senses are shot. Whether that be due to the cheap shots that were too hard to resist, the “little pick me up” your friend said would make the night fabulous or a combination of the two. The centre of Bournemouth is no different. About sixteen years ago a group of Christians decided they wanted to help the dazed, in danger and confused patrons of the Bournemouth nightlife. They set up the Nightclub Chaplaincy.
Currently Nightclub Chaplaincy is headed up by the Brooklyn native, Kenny Mitchell. He is The Nightclub Chaplain and you will find him in Halo on most Saturday nights. He is supported by two voluntary assistant chaplains, Nick and Polli. There are two sides of what they do. The club team and the street team. The club team work just in Halo at the moment but they have been approached by the Cameo (Bournemouth’s biggest nightclub) and the Student Union of Bournemouth University’s nightclub, The Old Firestation, to have teams there too. It’s definitely an exciting time.
A little background information for you. The word chaplain comes from the Latin word capella which means cape. The cape of a Roman soldier was warm and protective, two of the most important qualities a chaplain needs. There was also a Roman soldier who cut of part of his own cape to give to a person left without protection from the elements.
Picture this: its winter, you stumble out of a club dressed in something more appropriate for a summer’s day and you’re not exactly with it. You decide that taxis are overrated so start walking. The problem is you can’t walk in a straight line, let alone in the right direction. You get so far, stumble, and fall; unaware of where you now are. You decide the best thing to do is to sit still for a while but whilst you’re doing that your body temperature is dropping. Wouldn’t it be great if somebody saw you in your need, realised the potential danger you were in and wanted to help you? That is what the street team of the Nightclub Chaplaincy do, they help those who are vulnerable and sometimes practically ‘cape’ them, like the Roman soldier, with thermal foil blankets.
I spoke to Polli, a theology student at Moorlands College, who is a street team leader. He has been part of the Nightclub Chaplaincy since 2011. When he first became a team leader they would have about six or seven volunteers out on a Saturday night. They would then split up in order to be in teams of two or three. The evening would start at base around 10:30pm with the usual catch up that happens when a group sees each other again after a month apart. Volunteers were encouraged to take part just once a month. Most were involved in a variety of other groups (it’s a kinda Christian occupational hazard, we just love to get stuck in!) so the commitment wasn’t too demanding. The evening officially started with prayer.
Prayer is so important in all areas of life. It is the way we can speak with our Heavenly Father and bring before him what is on our hearts and minds. Prayer is for every situation but especially situations where you don’t know what will happen. The team never know the details of what would happen when they stepped out onto the street but they would probably have prayed that whatever was in store that God would guide their actions and their words and that His good and perfect will was done.
When out on the street the teams would go to different parts of town but plan their routes so that there was a cross over point. At this point they were able to share particular incidents that lay ahead for the other team so that they were prepared. Mid way through the evening they would go back to base to write up a log and then go back out until about 4:30 am.
Whilst this would happen every Saturday evening with a good size team each week a few years ago, in recent times the numbers have dropped. There isn’t a clear reason why. When I asked Polli he said that for a while there was a real strong group but they had been committed for a long time and gradually many of them decided that it was time to move on to something new. Now the chaplaincy are recruiting and rebuilding the teams. There have been several individuals who are interested in joining both teams and there are plans to get them the training they will need such as first aid. But there is still a need for more volunteers, especially females. Polli said the biggest challenge is when there isn’t an even spread of males and females in the teams. It becomes a little difficult when there is a woman who clearly needs help, but only male team on hand. They want to help her but they don’t want her to feel threatened. Often they just rely upon prayer and instinct.
Whether in Halo or on the streets the chaplaincy’s aim is to be “a helping hand and a listening ear”. Whilst everybody involved follows Jesus, their motivation to help is not to make people do the same. It is to provide assistance to those on a night out, to show the love of Jesus rather than tell it. If someone asks questions about why they do what they do then they will of course answer but it isn’t the priority. Night time can be disorientating to the most sober of people. Many of the people out in Bournemouth on a Saturday night are not local. What a member of the team does can vary from being a friendly face to point you in the direction of the taxi rank, to someone to listen when your world has just broken because you just saw your date kissing someone else. They even give out slippers to girls who can no longer walk in their shoes so that they don’t get cuts on their feet.
When I asked Polli what his highlight of serving on the team was he said it was seeing the beauty of true friendship. There was a young man who was unable to move due to the amount he had drank. He was in a shirt with no coat on a cold winter night and the Chaplaincy team wrapped him in thermal foil blankets. Bearing in mind this man was apparently at least 6”4, his friends proceeded to lift and carry him all the way back to their hotel. Many people would have just left him to sort himself out but his friends stuck by him.
This is just one of the numerous acts of love the night chaplaincy team have been involved in. Next time you’re out on a Saturday night in Bournemouth keep an eye out for them and say hi.
Here is a video of one of the events they partner with: