Organisations like the Street Pastors are needed more and more in our communities, and we have a responsibility to support them
Felix Haynes and Max O’Leary Mullock
“A quarter of an hour after going out into the street, I know exactly why I’m doing this.”
It’s a Monday evening, and in the tucked-away church offices, it feels like a Sunday morning service. It may not be the sole reason for their visit but, for the group of men and women here tonight, faith is their focus.
We’ve been invited to an information session describing the role of Worcester’s Street Pastors, a small, often elusive group of volunteers drawn from churches across Worcestershire. Along with 20,000 others across the UK, they patrol the streets on a Saturday evening, helping anyone they can, from those without a home, to those going home after a night out, to the doormen, taxi drivers and police officers trying to get them there.
This idea of people from a range of backgrounds and ages, voluntarily giving up their Saturday night to walk the streets of Worcester, was truly puzzling to us. But for those involved, the motivation is clear.
“God has talked in their ear and said, ‘you’d be good at that’," Andy Brownlee, an ex-PCSO who now helps to manage the team of volunteers, tells the prospective Pastors. “It is a response to this call that leads to faith with action.”
This focus on God seems sensible; it acts as a catalyst for increased involvement, and taps into the moral conscience of many with the potential to make a difference. Throughout the meeting, we hear references to Micah, calling for Christians to “Act justly”, and James reminding us that “Faith without deeds is dead”, and both receive enthusiastic nods from the group.
Yet this association with worship acts not as a shallow recruitment tool, but as a truly spiritual relationship. “Street Pastors, like food banks and the Bridge Counselling Service, are an important way to bring God’s kingdom into our communities,” Andy explains, and it seems that everyone involved feels a real responsibility to stand up and help, however they can, to support their communities.
Chris, who leads the prayer section of the Street Pastors, tells us that her team’s work acts to create an “authentic genuine connection” by praying, both for the community, and the Pastors themselves, during the course of the night. The very idea of multiple churches in multiple parishes coming together to worship in this way seems to enhance this.
Without a doubt, the work the Street Pastors do brings Christians together, but as their motivations become clearer, we wonder whether such a central religious theme makes their work inaccessible to the wider community.
“I was scared of being accused of being a Bible pusher,” admits Kim, who, having converted to Christianity when he was 29, became a Street Pastor when the scheme was introduced in Worcester in 2013. Indeed, when Andy explains that the programme provides them with an opportunity to discuss Jesus with the wider public, this is a fair concern.
However, as Kim shares a report from a typical Saturday night, it becomes clear that the Street Pastors have become a trusted and valuable addition to the community. He recounts a man, stumbling out of the pub towards the group of Pastors - he had recognised them from when they had helped his brother, and wanted to thank them.
“Everywhere you go, friendship is thrown at you,” Kim says. “It’s an incredible privilege every time you go out.”
Kim describes the group of people sleeping on the streets, who the Pastors help with cardboard, water and food. Throughout the report, we are amazed at the range of people the Pastors are able to help. Kim begins to tear up as he recounts the bouncer they see regularly during their patrols, thanking them for the support they gave him when his step-daughter passed away. As they introduce themselves to another doorman outside a club on the high street, he replies, “I’ve been watching you guys, I can’t believe you help people each week.”
It wasn’t just the public whose trust the Street Pastors had to win, but also the agencies and emergency services they would be working alongside. “The Police especially were suspicious when we started to go out,” explains Kim, and this is not surprising; the last thing that is needed in this often challenging environment is vigilantism. After a short time, Kim tells us that the Police recognised that the Street Pastors were different.
“We have a really close working relationship now. We’re trying to keep the city safe together, and often the Police don’t have time to deal with every incident, and that’s where we come in.”
As homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse continue to be huge problems for our communities, and people are left vulnerable after nights of binge drinking, the work of groups such as Street Pastors becomes vital in supporting the over-burdened emergency services of our local areas.
They ask for nothing in return, and whether the religious aspect of their work appeals to us or not, Pete, the soon to step down co-ordinator of the project, reminds us: “We will help anyone in need. Where people need help, we will be there.”