Service personnel or hospital staff may be familiar with what a chaplain is – I fulfil a similar role in the world of retail.

Service personnel or hospital staff may be familiar with what a chaplain is through their padre or their hospital chapel – I fulfil a similar role in the world of retail.

I work for a small charity called the Bristol City Centre Chaplaincy Trust and I am employed to offer “pastoral support to those who work in the retail industry”.

Chaplaincy in Bristol city centre goes back 30 years and I work half-time providing a level of support in Bristol Shopping Quarter.

We have two volunteer chaplains who have been trained to offer the same support thereby widening our availability.

Motivated by my Christian calling to care, pastorally, for my neighbour, I offer an independent, confidential listening ear to anyone who needs someone to talk to.

I also offer signposting to places and organisations of support and sometimes I am called to visit the sick in hospital.

A typical day involves me chatting with the security staff at The Galleries Shopping Centre in central Bristol, where I park my car, followed by coffee in one of the many coffee shops which can be found in Bristol Shopping Quarter - both national chains and small independents. Then I move on to meetings and appointments or general visiting of shops, stores and other retail outlets.

Being an effective listener means that I listen to what people want to say and do not carry any sort of agenda when doing so.

The service is free and completely non-judgemental. Conversations have ranged from talking about impending redundancy to the excitement of starting up a retail business in the vibrant Bristol Shopping Quarter.

From listening to the reasons for taking an overdose to coping with the day-to-day management of personal issues such as relationships, mental health, family, work, the boss and so on… I have also helped a lady who wasn’t clear on the process of getting married in church. All conversations are as unique as the person with whom I am talking.

Christmas is a very busy and very interesting time for a retail chaplain.

Often asked about reconciling the world of the consumer with the world of faith I see many parallels. The Bristol Shopping Quarter is a place of immense creativity and service. Families and friends often get together and spend quality time over a meal.

There is, of course, the opportunity to support those struggling with the weight of expectation, from the hard pressed shopper to the store manager who can’t divert the nearby footfall into visits to his shop.

At its heart, Christmas carries a message of great hope for all. This is reflected in the way Bristol Shopping Quarter responds with the range of shops, markets and activities taking place.

It is a privilege to be part of this exciting and growing response to the ravages of recent recession. If you are in Bristol… give me a shout.

Happy Christmas to all Retail Week readers.

  • Revd Andy Sewell is a retail chaplain in Bristol.