Last week, I mentioned that I'm on a roster at Christ Church Mayfair. This week, although "protect" too grandiose a word for it, I'd like to share a bit about what it is actually do, and why.
Roughly speaking, my job is to keep people out of church, and to make sure that those in the service don't disrupt it. If you think of the role as a bouncer, you wouldn't be too far off.
It's not typical for churches to have a rota of bouncers. Generally speaking, we'd like as many people through the door as we can possibly get – we call it "good news" for a reason. Hosting an evening service in central London, however, means that we often get people who turn up who for one reason or another are best turned away.
The most common and the most benign are tourists who want to look at the building. CCM is a traditional church building that was built by the Victorians and survived the blitz. It's also the closest churchy looking building to a bunch of very expensive hotels. Plenty of tourists want to have a peek inside. If they want to join the service, they are most welcome, but if they just want to take snapshots of the ceiling, we'd rather they come back some other time.
We also occasionally get people who are there with the express intent of disrupting the service, shouting and angry or shouting and mocking as the case may be. Occasionally they're rich lads on a night out, but mostly this comes from rough sleepers with untreated mental illnesses. I really don't know what do for those guys, except to be kind and patient and make sure they don't come inside unless they calm down first.
I have to stress, we don't refuse people based on how they look, how rich or poor they are, whether they are on a list (there isn't one) or whether they've been drinking. The basis of admission while a service is running is whether they'll disrupt the service.
The last and least pleasant thing that I've had to deal with is men being creeps to women. Once or twice we've had men corner women and make repeated, unwanted advances. At least one such man has freely confessed to using pick-up artist tactics to try to "trick" (his words) women into giving him their phone numbers.
The last incident like that happened while I was on duty, and frankly, I didn't know what to do. I tried once to talk to him but he gave me the brush off, so the rest of the evening I stuck to him like glue. Useless. His overall pattern of behaviour was clearly, obviously dodgy but there was no single action I could point to that I could confidently call out. How odd it is to feel bound by social norms while someone else dances on their edge. Should I say something? What should I say? Why isn't she asking for help? Am I white-knighting? What if I tell him to stop and he says 'stop what'? Is there something innocuous I can say to draw him into conversation? Next time – and sadly, there'll probably be a next time – I'll just be rude. It'll probably be a mistake, but at least it'll be a different one.
And that's pretty much it. I've focused on the difficult bits, mostly I just end up sitting in the vestibule all evening, opening the door for people as they come in.
I should add that this is all very much my own take on things, and whatever resemblance it has to the official stance of Christ Church Mayfair is purely coincidental.