With the recent call from Churches Together in All Lincolnshire for the need for more Emergency Faith Responders we thought we would share first-hand experience from here in the diocese from Revd Canon Andrew Vaughan.  Yes, that’s the same man who is the Imps’ Chaplain AND Priest in Charge in the Swinderby Parish, who also gives his time to be one of the diocese’s faith responders.

Emergency Faith Responders sit alongside colleagues in the blue light services and the council as part of the Emergency Planning Team. There is also help and collaboration with other organisations and charities such as social services and the Red Cross and Salvation Army.  The role is part of a legal framework and all faith responders need to be accredited and recognisable so must wear an ID badge and a high-vis vest at all times. 

“We’re not asking people to be heroes and faith responders are not expected to have medical knowledge or take the place of social services.  In essence it’s about ministry in abnormal situations and it’s the generosity of their faith that makes people do it” said Andrew.

Andrew has had direct involvement with several major incidents including the Boston Floods in 2013. Here he was deployed to a youth centre to check people in and help with the completion of paperwork, of which there is a lot, as people may be separated from other family members.

Andrew said: “The emergency response is very structured but dealing with people in terrible situations can be very emotional and tiring. You have to remember that some of them will have lost their homes, possessions and businesses so having a humanitarian approach is essential. There is a debrief after the emergency has ended and we also have a spiritual debrief as well so we can return the situation back to God.”

Another high-profile event Andrew was involved with was in 2014 and the case of modern-day slavery where a major police operation took place in connection with modern slavery.  Andrew recalls the ‘strange’ phone call he received asking if there were three-four people on the database of faith responders who were sensitive to a police operation involving modern slavery? 

Andrew said: “We had no idea who we would be talking to and although we thought it may be women caught up in sexual slavery it was actually seven men. Most of them had problems with drink or drugs; which is common in people kept as slaves as it enables their slave masters to control them.  Our role was to try and get them to talk although they were a bit reluctant at first as they were understandably very worried and concerned but its just about connecting with another human being. Or we listened to them and they spoke of how they ended up where they were.

“Their stories had familiar themes running through them of family breakdown, homelessness and someone coming along and seemingly offering something better. A lot of people kept as slaves, follow this pattern. 

“There are many partner organisations involved with a situation like this and it was noted by the National Crime Agency that having faith responders on the Emergency Planning Group is an example of best practice. It is very emotional, and tragic how easy it is for vulnerable people to be exploited. Out of the misery and sadness of the men kept there, there was some light as some of the Eastern European men got reconnected with their families and so we can but hope that they went onto a better life.”