Collaborative working is key to ending modern slavery, no one agency or organisation can do it alone. But the role of parish clergy can be overlooked or misunderstood.
We spoke to one parish Priest who has tackled that problem head on in her engagement with sex-working women and those who support them. Here are three lessons we can learn from her experiences.
1. Working together does make a difference
Partnership working is a particular passion of Pat’s, but has not been without its challenges. Her pre-ministry experience of multi-agency working helped her make initial links, but it soon became apparent that there were some who didn’t understand where or how a Priest fitted in a professional environment.
Through quiet determination and some education about the role of a priest in a community setting she was able to change perceptions. Pat is now accepted as a person with a professional contribution to make, and who is subject to the same boundaries of confidentiality and safeguarding as everyone else.
This new understanding enables her to attend monthly forum meetings where professionals share relevant information about the sex-working women they come into contact with. Together they are able to build up a much clearer picture of their individual situations and needs. Through the forum it has become apparent that some of the women may be being exploited or trafficked.
2. But individual roles and boundaries are important
In her ministerial role, Pat volunteers at a women’s drop in centre run by a local charity. She undertakes the same tasks as other volunteers but is also able to offer spiritual and pastoral care when asked. Over time other volunteers have come to understand and appreciate why her role sometimes differs from theirs when women ask for prayer or spiritual and emotional support.
3. Relationships are key, but give them time
Strong working relationships are not built overnight. It’s easy to become disheartened and feel as though you’re not getting anywhere. Instead, focus on how far you have come and how much you have learnt along the way.
Pat compares it to starting a new job, when enthusiasm has a tendency to overtake realism. She says, “Take time to get to know those who work in your community, see what you can learn from them as well as what you can offer. It’s well worth investing time in that.”
“Modern slavery is hidden in the communities we serve. As parish clergy we have a unique opportunity to be eyes and ears in our communities. For example, if you have a church school in your parish you will have regular contact with the headteacher. It may be that because of your understanding of modern slavery you will pick up on something that staff and governors miss, perhaps in safeguarding procedures, or maybe a pastoral concern that rings alarm bells.” By building strong relationships, you will be able to relay your concerns in a considerate and helpful way.
What would you say are the keys to working collaboratively? Send us an email and let us know.