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Home  >  Features  >  'Compelled by the Love of Christ'


'Compelled by the Love of Christ'

'Compelled by the Love of Christ'

Tuesday December 18 2018

Christmas Day is a UK public holiday. But for some, it will be a normal working day. Jackie Macadam learns how some people will spend the day supporting and helping others.

HOW do you plan to spend Christmas Day?

Long lie? Cup of tea while the children open their pressies? Slap up lunch while watching a movie on the TV?

For most of us, Christmas Day is a welcome holiday where the whole family can get together, but if it were not for a very large group of people, that sort of relaxing day would not be possible.

In this month of celebration of the birth of Christ, we consider just some of the people who will be working on December 25.

The Church’s Social Care provider, CrossReach springs to mind when considering those who work and support others over Christmas.

For people in care homes, that home is their family, and staff who work there are a part of that family.

Gaberston House, Alloa, is one of CrossReach’s residential services for adults with enduring mental health needs.

Sheena MacIntosh, team leader at Gaberston, explains: “The unit offers 24-hour support to vulnerable individuals, which for staff means we offer care and support 365 days of the year, including Christmas Day.

Working on Christmas Day means time away from our own families and being away from the people we love and who care for us. Gaberston staff have always said the same thing about working Christmas: it is important for everyone to feel cared for at Christmas and often staff say that the Christmas shift, although busy, is rewarding and fun.

“Staff work hard to make the day special for those who live in Gaberston and for those we support in their own homes. For individuals with mental health problems, Christmas can be a difficult time of year because of loneliness and difficult memories. Of course, mental ill-health impacts on daily life no matter what day of the year it is.

“As a staff team we all feel that Christmas Day at Gaberston house has always been a very special time of the year, when the Gaberston family can spend time together ensuring that everyone experiences the festive spirit we all enjoy in our own lives. Residents and staff at Gaberston have a warm and open rapport and staff understand how important it is to meet residents’ wishes and choices. This is reflected on Christmas Day as residents relax and staff prepare Christmas dinner, everyone shares in the festivities, watches the Queen’s Speech and eats Christmas pudding. There is an opportunity for those who wish to join in to hear staff share from the Bible the story of Christmas and the message of peace and joy.”

Charities providing crisis support are among those working over the holiday.

“Safe Families for Children is a charity operating in Edinburgh and the Lothians. They provide early intervention and flexible support to families in crisis – at any time. Safe Families staff work hard to identify and tailor support to the needs of those families. We then rely on trained and approved volunteers to provide that support as a Family Friend or Host Home,” says Ruth Scott, Community Volunteer Manager.

“For many of the families we work with, Christmas can be a particularly difficult time of year as nurseries and schools close and support from other professionals is limited. Whilst some emergency provisions are still available, for families teetering on the edge Christmas can be enough to push them to crisis point.

“We always have a member of staff on duty over the Christmas period to take calls, monitor existing placements and even set up emergency supports where necessary. This can mean having to drop everything to follow up on issues or arranging to meet with families and volunteers as soon as possible.

“It’s really vital work, because having this ongoing support in place can allow us to prevent further escalation of a bad situation and reduce the risk of harm to the children involved, so it’s vital work.

“In one case, we had already started to work with a very isolated and overwhelmed mum of two children under the age of three. She had only recently given birth to her second child when we first became involved. As the Christmas holidays approached, it was clear she was becoming more and more overwhelmed and exhausted. She was struggling to cope with her older child in particular and her mental health was suffering as a result. Our Senior Family Support Manager visited her on a number of occasions in the run up to Christmas, but there were growing concerns about how the family would get through the Christmas holidays without the respite and support provided by the child’s nursery placement and her usual social worker and the other professionals involved.

“In order to relieve some of the pressure, one of our volunteers stepped up to the plate, giving up precious family time to meet with the family and our Senior Family Support Manager on December 27 at a local café to discuss the support. From there, the volunteer arranged to care for the child for two full days before New Year’s Eve.

“Not only did this provide invaluable respite and space for Mum, but it gave the child a chance to have fun and get involved in our volunteer’s own family activities, such as sledging in the snow. That sort of help is priceless to a family at risk.

“What’s more, the volunteer and her own children still recall fondly that time they were able to spend with the young girl, despite the busyness generally associated with the time of year. Although seemingly small, that gift of time and fun allowed that family to maintain some stability through what would otherwise have been the hardest time of year for them. We are particularly thankful for all our volunteers who choose to give their time and energy during the Christmas holidays to help others in such need.”

Another group of people for whom Christmas is a busy time – is ministers!

“‘This will be your busy time of year then’ – if we had a £1 for every time a minister hears those words – then I suspect the Church of Scotland deficit might be solved!” says the Rev Shuna Dicks, minister at Cults Parish Church.

“Yes it is busy, but we are no busier than many other people trying to juggle work and family commitments along with finding time to do the Christmas shopping and organise travel arrangements, meals out and, of course, Christmas lunch.

“Christmas in our family has settled over the years I have been minister into a pattern born out of balancing the needs of the parish and family. This year it is being tweaked around the edges as we are now in a new parish and finding our way round the traditions of this new place. But the core of what we do as a family remains the same; finding a balance between ‘work’ commitments and finding time to be together.

 “Christmas is, of course, a special time of year. And I hope that for both my parishioners and family I have managed to work out how to satisfy both and most importantly how to enjoy sharing the season with both. Starting on Christmas Eve, I love the excitement of a family orientated Christmas Eve service – the chatter of excited children, the sense of families gathered together – often with extended family reunited for Christmas. After this service it’s home to do some of the preparation for Christmas lunch. Then the quiet reflective anticipation of the Watchnight Service – waiting for the Christ child and then celebrating His arrival. Wonderful! Then home for a nightcap before trying to sleep.

“As a family we have been lucky enough to have both our grown up children home for Christmas – and in our last parish we would as family serve mulled wine to the folks who gathered for the Watchnight. On Christmas morning most of us would attend the Christmas morning service. To date after the service it’s been home, apron on and into the kitchen. I love cooking Christmas lunch for the family (usually the four of us plus my parents, mother-in-law and sister-in-law). This year things will change as Cults Parish Church hosts a Christmas lunch for those who may otherwise be on their own. So Neil and I will pop along there for a bit whilst our own beef and turkey is cooking to help out. This is one of the compromises being made. When I suggested we all join the folks at the Kirk for Christmas Lunch, well, let’s just say I met with a little resistance.

“The balance between meeting family expectations and being minister can sometimes be tricky.

“But really that’s no different to any family where one or more members work on Christmas Day. It is a special time and we make it special in our way.”


This story first appeared in December's Life and Work. Subscribe in print or digital here.