2000. “People at the bottom of the heap” are the focus of Christian based Wellington City Mission.
The type of person Newtown’s City Mission deals with are those with “no vision of the future, or for whatever reason are not going to pull themselves completely out of the situation they have got themselves into,” says City Missioner Des Britten. Backgrounds of clints vary, with one person arriving at the Mission’s doorstep in a BMW so the mission can look after his money as he has a gambling problem. “I’m just here to help them really,” he says.
The Mission is a place that is here for everybody and for understanding people, Des explains. They “do not shove religion down (people’s) throats”, preferring a caring, loving, and supportive environment. They are not political and do not attack governments and would sooner talk to ministers and discuss problems with them.
Des recounts how previous Prime Minister Jim Bolger consulted him a number of times. Jim Bolger once discussed “social capital” with Des, where the question was asked on how to make society work together to try and fix problems, and build community, instead of blaming government for difficulties. Des hopes they can establish a good working relationship with the current government.
City Mission works with “every problem that there is really”, providing a budgeting service, the largest food bank in Wellington, a service for dysfunctional families and programmes for the unemployed (mostly men) and the elderly. They also have a school for 15-20 young people who have a background in alcohol and drugs and have been expelled form or don’t want to go to school.
Des says that although the Mission is in the business of giving, they encourage clients to make life better for themselves. And they see some “fantastic results”. Some people have moved back into full time employment and taken responsibility for their debts and budgeting.
“If we were continually dealing with negatives, it would be a boring life. That’s part of the excitement of the whole thing.”
Des Britten had a varied career before he became an Anglican priest and City Missioner. He had been involved in the restaurant business for twenty-nine years and 130 programmes on food were broadcast over television.
Later in life, he was trained for seven years in theology. From working as a self-supporting Anglican priest, he went into full time ministry at St Barnabas parish in Roseneath.
It was then that a Bishop approached him to take on the position of City Missioner. At first apprehensive, he said no. After being asked again, Des reconsidered and discussed it with his wife and relented. He has not regretted the decision.
“I adore the work. It’s very much a people thing. All my life I’ve worked with people and really this is just an extension of all that.”
By Peter Veugelaers
Published 2000, Challenge Weekly.
Author’s note: Des has since passed away.