Clerics learn to lash out as well as reach out

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a picture of clerical modernity: a vicar with a mobile phone taking lessons in self-defence from a former police officer.

In the light of a recent survey showing that nearly one in 10 clerics has been attacked and nearly one in three threatened, the Christian Resources Exhibition, an annual event at Sandown Park, in Esher, Surrey, invited a former Metropolitan Police middleweight boxing champion to teach members of the clergy self-defence tactics.

The Rev Simon Evans, 38, of Telford Park, in Streatham, south London, has been threatened countless times. "It's usually when someone's trying to push my front door through at 2am and my wife and children are in bed," he said. "I can smell the drink on their breath and they come up with some elaborate story about why they want money. Then, when you start saying, `We don't give money at the door,' their whole demeanour changes and becomes threatening."

The visits come in "fits and starts": sometimes he has two or three 2am calls in a week, and sometimes none for a month, but he always feels compelled to go to the door - every so often it is "the genuine emergency". "They hit the time when you're going to bed or you've been asleep, when you're not thinking straight," he said. "I feel particularly vulnerable because I think they can catch me off my guard."

But next time, Rev Evans will be better prepared. Peter Hodkinson, who set himself up as a self-protection instructor when he retired from the Metropolitan Police a year ago, taught him some basic defensive moves. "Simple skills work," he said. "They have to be techniques that people can realistically remember in high-stress, confrontational situations. We're talking about pushing, pulling, punching and kicking - those sorts of things."

Such defensive tactics may not come naturally to priests, who are usually trained to reach out rather than lash out, but according to a survey conducted by the Christian Resources Exhibition, more than one in three clerics would like some training in self-defence.

Mr Hodkinson said he could not believe he was being asked to train clerics. "I thought: `Surely I don't need to teach clergy about self-defence. You would have thought they would be as safe as anyone could be. But times are changing."