Canon Mair Talbot
has just taken over as manager of the Christian Magdalene Project in Norwich
which reaches to prostitutes working on the city's streets. Story by GAIL HALLEY.
I met Canon Mair (Welsh for Mary) Talbot in her spacious garden where roses tumbled haphazardly out of pots, and her two handsome black labradors cavorted around the lawn.
But Canon Talbot wouldn't be there much longer. After three and a half years as Vicar of Watton and Carbrooke and Ovington – a post where she has been very happy amongst 'a great bunch of people' – she has now said goodbye to parish life and moved to Norwich to be the new project manager of the Magdalene Group.
Founded by two Christian magistrates and Theresa Cumbers in 1994, the Magdalene Group was set up with the aim of helping the growing number of people who were being drawn into prostitution. Mair has known about the Group for a longtime and greatly admired its work.
She grew up in Leicestershire and she came to faith in 1974. At the age of 25 she went to Ridley Hall Cambridge to train as a deaconess, ordination not being an option for women then.
Her first job was in Great Yarmouth where she stayed for six years, and where she met her husband, Nick. He worked in the voluntary sector so their paths crossed regularly. He died in 2004 so she was widowed at the early age of 44.
Canon Talbot has a clear understanding of the Church's responsibility towards the poor and disadvantaged. "When the church doesn't care for the poor a spiritual stuntedness sets in and you cease to understand the heart of God," she said.
She is also delighted that the Magdalene Project is just up the road from the Julian Cell, not only because this is a wonderful place for prayer and meditation, but also because it is a reminder of Norwich's spiritual heritage of prayer and caring for the poor, and the Magdalene Project is helping fulfil this role in Norwich.
Canon Talbot spent eight years working in mental health, and it was particularly during this time that she saw the radical difference that faith in Christ makes in people's lives. The love of Christ, more than anything, seemed able to reach down to where they were hurting, and during her time in this work she had the privilege of leading 12 people to Christ – all at their request. "We do what we do," she says, "because we believe in a God who loves people and can change them but never forces Himself on anyone".
She is also aware that this does not go unnoticed in our secular society and this is the frustration that many Christians experience as pressure is put upon them to do 'good works' but works which lack the power of God.
The more practical side of the work which appeals to her is getting structure into people's lives and helping them to fill the void. "People turn to drugs or drink usually because they have a void and they don't know how to fill it", she says. These things can temporarily dampen their pain, but sooner or later they begin to realize it won't work. The Magdalene Project not only seeks to fill that aching gap, but it also helps with housing, benefits, and finding work.
Mair looks forward to working with volunteers from a wide range of churches. She says: "This work has to be the ministry of the whole of the Body of Christ, not one particular church."
Her experience of working with volunteers at the Norwich Mental Health Care Trust, together with a wide network of church contacts, make her very well placed to expand on this side of the work.
There are many aspects of parish life she will miss, but exciting challenges lie ahead.