Belfast's Black Santa on bringing light to the lives of others at Christmas
Black Santa's diary: The Very Rev John Mann
"There's a little bit of sunshine!" says a lady dropping in a note for the collection. I'm not sure if she meant the gift, the smile or the sun breaking through the clouds, but it was a happy sort of thing to say and gave us one of those instant boosts when you're flagging a bit, as everyone does who stands out for a charity.
I have learnt a lot over four years involved with the Black Santa collection, and one of them is 'Don't walk past a person with a collecting tin!' Even 2p and a smile is a bit of sunshine and encouragement. My admiration for those working for charities grows day by day.
Someone described to me a cartoon that is doing the rounds, of the stable at Bethlehem and Mary and Joseph and the rest, the caption reading: "Where are all the important people?" Good question! Who are the important people in our lives? Who are the important people at Christmas? I'll let you answer that ...
The Moon is just a sliver now and the days are at their darkest. I was ordained 35 years ago yesterday on old St Thomas' day; mid-winter, four days before Christmas.
I remember coming into Belfast with a bright new clerical collar round my neck, feeling like I was standing out - I probably was. We went into the Skandia in Callender Street for a bite to eat. Black Santa was just three years old and here I am now on the steps doing what Sammy Crooks did then. It's a funny world. When the Skandia closed the cushions off the long seats were given to St Anne's - we sit on them every week - as they fit the stone ledges behind the high altar.
No, we are not the important ones... but maybe we can bring some sunshine into someone's life this Christmas.
The collection has done well over the weekend. The total I have is only to lunchtime on Friday, when we last banked. At that stage it was £96,100. A long way to go, but three good days ahead!