In this special feature three ministers reflect on the violence they have experienced and how it has changed their views on ministry.

The Rev Francis Chalwell

Church: St Michael's, Surry Hills

Location of incident: Edward Eager Lodge homeless shelter

When: Late 2001

Francis explains what happened:

It was shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist tacks and I was visiting Edward Eager Lodge, a residential hostel for homeless people. I was in the foyer area when a gentleman came up to me."

"His opening words were something to the tune of "Mary wasn't a virgin'. So I began a conversation with him. He started talking in a more threatening way and saying more blasphemy about our Lord.

"Then he said, "Just as we flattened twin towers, we are going to flatten your church'. I said, "That's not a nice thing to say', then he said, "Now I am going to flatten you'.

"And he did. He flattened me, head-butting me, knocking me back and leaving a cut above my left eye. He drew a lot of blood."

The aftermath:

The man fled the scene immediately following the incident. He was homeless and known amongst that community, but was never again seen in the area after that day. Francis knows the man suffered from mental illness.

As a result of the attack, Francis had whiplash for several weeks, minor neck problems for several months and still has a scar above his eyebrow to this day.

Francis reflects:

"We have a high amount of mentally ill people in the inner city, lots of people on the streets. That doesn't automatically mean they are inclined towards violence, but they are our least cared for and most desperate people.

"The fault and blame lies at the feet of the government because of the lack of money the government puts into treating mental health issues. The mentally ill have been criminalised and prisons have become the de facto carers of the many of the mentally ill.

"I had been in the church around six months at the time, but it did not affect my opinion of my job in the area at all. It was just a random piece of violence. However, I am a bit more cautious when talking to strangers now and take a noticeably more defensive physical stance.

"My Bishop [Robert Forsyth] was good and rang me up immediately to see how I was going."

The Rev Tim Foster

Church: All Souls', Leichhardt

Location of incident: All Souls' rectory

When: Early 2005

Tim explains what happened:

A guy came to the door asking for money around 5pm. He appeared to be drunk. Now, I'm six foot and weigh over 100 kilos. But he was a pretty big guy too. When I refused to give him money he grabbed me by the collar, lifted me up and threw me against the wall of my house.

"He picked up his six-pack of Jim Beam and Cola and ran. I rang the police while chasing after him, but he got away, hiding in a garage down the street.

"The police got back to me three hours later; they had a look around the rectory; they canvassed the area. We went to Ashfield police station and looked through the identikit, but we couldn't identify him."

The aftermath:

Tim received a bruised larynx and had difficulty speaking afterwards. 

Tim reflects:

"It's another incident that shows there is a physical side to the job that we don't expect to experience. 

"I have not for a moment contemplated leaving because of such an incident. These things are minor compared to what the apostle Paul or people getting persecuted in other countries go through.

"I am strongly in favour of off-site rectories for a lot of reasons. You become the caretaker, people grow dependent on you, and you get far more people coming to the door with their elaborate lies. It's stressful and a distraction.

"If I lived two blocks from the church, I would still be engaged in the community as I currently am, but at reduced stress and risk. You don't need to be next to the church to be minister of a community.

"I think there needs to be more awareness about how to deal with people who are drunk, drug-affected or mentally ill. These are genuine Occupational Health and Safety concerns. None of the current parish risk management material addresses these areas."

The Rev Steve Bainbridge

Church: St Paul's, South Coogee

Location of incident: St Paul's church

When: Easter 2004

Steve explains what happened:

It was about midnight on Easter Sunday morning in 2004 when the church alarm went off. I assumed it was a false alarm so I went to turn it off. I was on the back steps of the church building, it was dark, we had no security lights and suddenly somebody hit me with a lump of wood.

"When I came to, we sent for the paramedics. They checked me out and I was okay. The police arrived one and a half hours later and they couldn't find the person. They didn't take any valuables.

"Being Easter morning I had to preach at the 6am sunrise service at Coogee beach. I didn't look too good, but I just had to carry on."

The aftermath:

Steve received a hairline fracture on his cheekbone from the attack as well as some bruising. St Paul's now have a spy hole for the rectory door and security lights outside the church.

Steve reflects:

"It's the kind of thing that can happen anywhere. But it has made me more wary. Now if an alarm goes off, I don't go on my own, but get one of my sons to come with me as a lookout.
"We haven't had any incidents since then, just the occasional prowler on the church grounds. We have had people break in and steal food from the rectory freezer.

"We did also hand out food to people who knocked on the rectory door asking for it, but the police told us to tighten that up. We now direct people to Anglicare Bondi.

"We believe it's important for the family and me to remain living in a rectory next to the church. It's more convenient and being on-site is beneficial if you are keen to be involved in church activities."

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