Black Santa's Diary: Chilly but bright start to my annual sit-out at St Anne's Cathedral
It's amazing how important the weather forecast becomes when you are Black Santa.
The first day of this year's sit-out dawned cold and bright. I kitted myself out in the multiple layers which keep Black Santa warm under that familiar cloak.
This year I have been battling a virus, which kept me at home for all of last week.
Although fit to return to duty, I have largely lost my voice. This made the first day of radio and television interviews rather interesting and I'm sure I didn't sound myself on the evening news. However, one of the great things about Black Santa is the team of helpers.
Each of the cathedral clergy gets to help the Dean with the sit-out.
At one point yesterday morning, there were five black-cloaked helpers alongside the Dean. When his voice gave out, at least there were others to step in with a helpful word.
This year, we have introduced contactless giving. People were keen to try out the new technology, although the Dean had to be careful not to add an extra zero to anyone's donation! However, one tradition from the first day of the sit-out was missing this year.
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We had all expected to welcome the Lord Mayor of Belfast to the steps of the cathedral.
But one outcome from Thursday's dramatic election result is that an elected Member of Parliament cannot be Mayor of Belfast. We look forward to welcoming Belfast's new First Citizen later in the week.
But the thing which keeps me going, with or without a voice, is the knowledge that every pound given goes to support people who face real needs and real poverty in a world where the gap between those who have and those who have not is growing.
This year's Black Santa sit-out calls us all to do something really important to bridge that pain.
The Very Rev Stephen Forde is Dean of Belfast