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Concerning Travellers & Gypsies

by Michael Ford last modified 22 Nov, 2018 03:49 PM

Jonathan Herbert, Chaplain to Gypsies, Travellers and Showmen in the Diocese of Salisbury, has spoken out about cultural awareness and prejudice.

The Revd Jonathan Herbert has been Chaplain to Gypsies, Travellers and Showmen since June 2015. Based at Hilfield Friary, near Dorchester, he travels to meets Gypsies and Travellers in brick-built houses or trailers, on council-run caravan sites or privately-owned land, at the roadside or even canalside.

Jonathan offers training for clergy and others who may be working with Gypsies and Travellers in the Southwest of England, and can help with mediation when the needs and wishes of Gypsies and Travellers give rise to tensions in local parishes.

Of being Chaplain, he says, “My role is in three parts - firstly, pastoral work; secondly, advocacy work; and thirdly, educational work… befriending people, getting to know them, building up trust - which is so crucial in any work with people, but particularly with a group who’ve experienced prejudice for centuries. I think the earliest recorded Gypsy was in Lyme Regis in the 1560s.”

View a video clip here

“The second part of my job is advocacy work, working with groups of travellers and other people like the police, like local authorities, to overcome prejudice, which is rife, really - some people call the prejudice against travellers as the ‘last acceptable form of racism’.”

Jonathan arranges cultural awareness training, often getting together with travellers to talk to groups in schools, churches, local authorities, the police, MPs and others, to address prejudice and point to positive aspects of traveller life.

He says, “Travellers still live in large extended families. It’s unheard-of for an older person to end up in a care home. A child is brought up, in a sense, by the whole extended family, not just by one or two parents.

“I’ll go anywhere to talk about travellers and gypsies. I’m passionate that some of the ignorance around them is dispelled, and I will particularly make myself available to talk to any kind of church groups about their life.”

Gypsies and Travellers form one of the largest minority ethnic groups in the Diocese, with long traditions of nomadic life throughout Dorset and Wiltshire and into neighbouring counties. They often have a strong sense of Christian faith, and value the ministry offered to them by clergy and others in many parish churches.

From time to time, there are points of confrontation between Gypsies and Travellers and those who live in settled communities. An appreciation of cultural and religious traditions can therefore be important for all those who minister among them. Jonathan’s ministry is invaluable in meeting this need.

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