Mission: God on the Dancefloor
“Put 2,500 people aged 18-30 in one area for six hours on a Friday night and you don’t know what will kick off,” says Julian Holyoake. “It might be a domestic, or we might have a flood. Once we even had a clubber who died from heart failure. Occasionally you’ll have to deal with staff in shock.”
Holyoake is manager of Ikon, a nightclub and bar in Maidstone, Kent, and has a secret weapon to battle the excesses of overindulgent drinkers: a nightclub chaplain. As a concept, it sounds bizarre: combining spirituality with a wild night out. But Church Army’s Diana Greenfield, the chaplain at Ikon, seems completely at ease.
Petite, spiky-haired and with a silver ring through her nose, Greenfield is one of a handful of Christian nightclub chaplains in the UK. “My job is to be God’s presence in the club,” Greenfield says as she walks through the club, alert for signs of distress: the girl upset in the toilets, the drunken lad trying to start a fight, the lonely soul desperate for a chat.
Sometimes regulars will approach her. She is not hard to spot — the words “club chaplain” are emblazoned in silver on her dark T-shirt. When she sees those in need, Greenfield gently offers help.
First, she tries to listen: “I will pray while we’re talking,” she says. “If I get very stuck, I’ll take a break to think about what God is trying to say and come back. My work is intuitive.”
Frequently clubbers pour out their anxieties: loneliness, financial difficulties, relationships ending or divorcing parents. Alcohol, of course, helps people open up – “but if they’re drunk, I’ll ask them to call me so we can have a coffee and chat the following day. This job is also about offering friendship, and much of it involves building relationships with clubbers week in week out. Usually I try to do this gradually, but sometimes people are at rock bottom when they reach me.”
But how easy is it to talk about God in a nightclub?
“God often arises naturally in conversation. The rewarding part is seeing people become Christians. That’s happened with one girl who works here. Others are searching, they’re on a spiritual journey. Many people believe in something but wouldn’t call it God because of the baggage associated with the traditional Church. What I want to do now is go beyond church, offering hope to the third generation of de-churched people.
“The Gospel can be applied in any culture. The Church needs to be creative in today’s world,” she says.
Ikon’s manager, agrees: “The Church has to adapt to modern life to survive. Saying Sunday is sacred is not going to work in a world where places are open 24/7.”
He describes Greenfield as a great asset: “She is very experienced in clubs and spots potential issues such as someone drinking too much, and because she’s approachable is more likely to be able to talk to people.”
She also helps members of staff, he says: “When they talk to her it saves them from major stress, and when they’re stressed they don’t perform at work.”
Now Greenfield is building teams of volunteers, committed Christians who accompany her to the clubs. “There is a real need for this,” says one. “Young people need to know God is there as well as partying.”
Find out more on Diana’s ministry at www.nightclubchaplain.co.uk
or call 020 8309 3519This is an extract of an article by Bess Twiston-Davies published in The Times newspaper
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