Belfast Central Mission: 130 years of putting faith into action
The Rev David Campton of Belfast Central Mission tells William Scholes about his three-day sponsored walk from Carrickfergus to Millisle, which starts today to raise funds for a dementia care home
WOVEN through the DNA of Irish Methodism is a rich thread of commitment to social care; by expressing Christianity through practical action, not only is the dignity of each and every person, regardless of creed or class, respected, but the faith itself is also commended.
Belfast Central Mission has exemplified the Methodist approach since it was founded in 1889 to meet the problems associated with inner-city life.
Just as Belfast itself has changed immeasurably since then, so too has the way the Mission goes about serving the community.
Promoting religion remains a key aim, but BCM's remit for social care is now Northern Ireland-wide rather than focused on Belfast.
Today, it also runs projects in places like Dungannon, Magherafelt, Newtownards and Bangor, offering a wide range of services - everything from supported housing for young adults leaving care and residential accommodation for older people to parent support and tea dances.
In many of these projects, it works alongside statutory bodies such as the Housing Executive and the health trusts. BCM has a staff of around 200, with a further 160 volunteers supporting the work.
A recent reorganisation means that as well as the traditional Methodist 'superintendent', leadership is provided by a team of an executive chairman and chief executive.
The move to more professional structures was both necessary and welcome, says the Rev David Campton (54), the current superintendent.
His responsibilities extend beyond BCM to other Methodist congregations and initiatives in its south Belfast 'circuit'.
Today's superintendent is "more of a pastoral role", he explains. "We're the conscience of the organisation."
The 'conscience' is taking to the road over the next few days.
Starting this morning, Mr Campton is undertaking a sponsored walk between Carrickfergus and Millisle; these are two symbolic locations in the life of BCM, and the route helps to underline how the organisation is moving into the future while staying true to its foundations.
"The walk is to raise the profile - and a little money - for our new dementia care facility in Copelands," he says.
Copelands is the name of the £5 million facility that BCM is currently building outside Millisle, Co Down as a state-of-the-art residential, nursing and dementia care home.
It will offer a new style of care - called 'the household model' - and is being built to a dementia 'gold standard' design.
The aim of the Copelands complex is to produce a continuity of care from residential care to more intensive dementia care
Carrickfergus is the chosen starting point because for very many years the charity ran a residential home - now defunct - at Castlerocklands in the Co Antrim.
"Our Copelands project is undeniably the largest single project BCM has undertaken during our 130 years and it is a massive feat with an understandably representative budget, which we need to raise," says Mr Campton.
"I hope to raise awareness of both BCM as an organisation that helps and supports family members and neighbours of so many around the province, while also raising awareness and funds for our flagship Copelands project and I would welcome any and all support and company along the way."
Although Castlerocklands ceased operation some time ago, it is easy to see how Copelands, as well as being designed to meet 21st century care needs, is its spiritual successor.
"It took a long time to get the Copelands project organised," says Mr Campton. "The aim of the complex is to produce a continuity of care from residential care to more intensive care."
Mr Campton is conducting the walk during a period of sabbatical leave; he's also spent time in Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat centre in the wilds of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state.
He was lecturing on Jonah but says the prospect of bumping into bears curtailed his "altitude training"; the plan is to walk more than 12 miles a day over the next three days, with stops at BCM projects and Methodist churches along the way.
Before reaching Copelands itself - at 3.30pm on Saturday, if all goes to plan - Mr Campton will be stopping off at the inaugural Copelands Summer Fete at Killard House School in Donaghadee.
"BCM has been an integral part of communities across Northern Ireland for 130 years and we want to cement that by visiting as many of them as possible," he says.
"I hope our neighbours, service users, friends, families and staff alike will encourage and motivate me to keep my legs moving as far as Millisle."