‘Intentional loitering’ – the work of a shopping centre chaplain

For a shopping centre, Trinity Leeds has more of a connection with the Church than you might expect.

For a start, it’s named after the adjacent 18th-century church, Holy Trinity - and it also has its own chaplain.

The Revd Hannah Smith is a Pioneer Curate at Riverside (a Fresh Expression of Church) which meets at Holy Trinity, and she also spends part of her time being present in a dog collar at the centre, which has been open for two years.

She says, “Trinity could have ignored the church but instead they chose to respect it and integrate it into the design – it’s part of the landscape. And that positive attitude goes beyond the architecture, because when I asked, not long after they opened, if they’d like a chaplain, it was a resounding ‘yes’.”

So what does the work of a chaplain involve? Hannah says, “For me it’s about making yourself known and developing relationships with the staff both in the shops and behind the scenes. It’s about being a listening ear for whatever people may want to talk about, whether that’s family, football or faith.  After the weekly staff briefing, people will often have a chat and some have told me that they’ll go and sit at the back of church for some quiet reflective space.

“If a traumatic event occurs, people may not seek out a counsellor, but if I’m there and they’ve already established a connection with me, then they’re much more likely to feel able to talk things through.”

But the role isn’t without challenges. Hannah says, “You can sometimes feel you’re not being productive because it’s difficult to quantify any effect you might be having. Part of the ministry is ‘intentional loitering’ (which can feel hard to justify when you’ve got 600 other things to do), but it’s no different really to a vicar in a parish being present and available. And in a world in which people are pressed and stressed, having that time for people is crucial.

“I do a regular walk through most Tuesday mornings so that people get to know I’m around then, and after 8am morning prayers in Holy Trinity  I always go to the same place for porridge where I chat to the staff.

“The Christmas party was very encouraging as people expressed their appreciation for the role, and a surprising number wanted to talk about faith. So I think there’s definitely a lot of questions and intrigue under the surface.”



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