The Word on the Street
Street Pastors are a well known inter-denominational Church response to urban problems, engaging with people on the streets of many UK cities. The Peterborough team, made up from local volunteers, go out into Peterborough’s Club land most Saturday night seeking to show the love of Jesus in a practical way.
Street Pastors is a national organisation that was pioneered in London in 2003 by Rev Les Isaac, Director of the Ascension Trust, inspired by similar work done by churches in Jamaica. Currently there are approximately about 9000 trained volunteers in over 250 teams around the UK.
Peterborough Street Pastors operate on a Saturday night out of St. Mary’s Church in the City Centre, and this is where Network Peterborough met up with one of the teams to join them for a night on the streets. Network Peterborough’s James Stevens takes up the story:
“It’s winter, it’s party season, and my natural inclination is not to spend the next 6 hours standing in the streets of
Peterborough, but the prospect of seeing some action, and the fact that the guys I’m joining do this virtually every weekend whatever the weather, spurs me on.
We meet up at St. Mary’s Church, just a stone’s throw from the city centre, for prayers and coffee while the team gather their bags in which are a variety of objects including pink flip-flops! A couple of police officers join us for a cuppa, they are in good spirits despite the fact they’ll be doing a much longer shift than us.
One of the first things I find out is that the people that are out on a Saturday night earning a wage are the people with the greatest rapport with the street pastors, police officers, community support officers, security staff, door staff, bar owners, and taxi drivers all hold the Street Pastors in high regard, and understand what they do and the help it provides.
The team of four I’m attached to hit the streets around 11pm and are straight to work – picking up glass bottles. I suspect nationally that Street Pastors must remove millions of bottles a year off the streets, it is difficult to quantify but any one of those bottles could have been used as a weapon meaning the Street Pastors are potentially saving lives every night they are out.
I am surprised at the age of Peterborough’s clubbers. One of the team explains to me that generally the people out are much younger, but as it is office party season the demographic has changed, they go on to explain that this can often increase the number of people they help as there are more people out for whom this is not a lifestyle and they probably can’t handle large quantities of alcohol like the regulars can.
It’s cold, but at least it’s not raining. The Clubbers appear to not feel the cold judging by what they are not wearing! Going to Night clubs used to be part of my life, and it appears that not allot has changed in the years since I last went. It makes me ponder whether I or my friends would ever have benefitted from the work now carried out by Street Pastors?
The Team don’t go out with the specific intention of sharing their faith, however the people they meet often ask “Why do you do this?” and the guys on team are not the sort of people to shy away from
any opportunity to explain exactly why they care so much. You can see on people’s faces that they are amazed and tremendously grateful of the work the Pastors carry out. The team also have Bibles, in English and Polish that they can leave with people if appropriate. The Pastors take seriously the scripture in 1 Peter 3:5 ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’.
According to the police officers we talk to there are an estimated 2000 people out tonight, and the evening passes fairly quietly till about 2am, this is when allot of people spill out of the pubs, clubs and bars in search of food and taxis. This also seems to be the time when those more than a little worse for wear stumble out onto the street, and when the fights begin.
I witness a pantomime of a fight between two groups of men; at least five of them are wearing ironically bad “Christmas Jumpers” It almost looks like clowns fighting, and in some ways is! The bouncers and the police wade in and it’s quickly broken up, the only damage done is a few stretched sweaters, no one else has become involved, and the Street
Pastors, knowing this is a line they do not cross, pray at a distance looking to see if there is any way they can assist people once it’s all calmed down.
The Pastor ‘patrol’ continues as this is when they get their busiest, they offer flip-flops to ladies that are no longer able to stagger around on their impossibly high heels, and negotiate cabs to ensure some potentially vulnerable people get safely home. We help a young lady find her friends, only then help her find them at least once more later that night.
My evening with the Street Pastors is almost over, and as we head back to St. Mary’s we detour past a couple of clubs just off the main drag. We step inside the door of the first to hand some collected glass bottles to the door staff for disposal, they gladly do so knowing that they could easily become victims like anyone else. This club is playing Dubstep, a chaotic sound that is somehow contained inside the building. The club is everything you expect it to be and the dress code says these people are here to party.
The last club we pass is mainly filled with Eastern Europeans. They don’t appear to have many formal door staff but the guys hanging around out the front look like they would quickly sort out any trouble, and judging by the scars on some of their faces have done exactly that in the past. Once they realise who we are their demeanour changes almost instantly, they are courteous and refrain from the sometimes shocking language we have heard on the streets the rest of the evening. We talk to them for a while before heading back to base for me to depart, and for the Street Pastors to regroup around several mugs of hot chocolate before they go back out to see if f any of the stragglers need assistance.
The evening has been thoroughly engaging and the time has flow. I am impressed by the respect shown to the team,
and the love; some happy and grateful clubbers have hugged several of the Pastors over the evening. I wish them well and head home.”
If the work of a Street Pastor appeals to you then I would recommend joining them as an ‘observer’, this will give you a flavour of what’s involved. You can also join them for their monthly prayer meetings on the last Monday of each month, 7.30pm at St. Mary’s Church, as well as becoming a Friend of Street Pastors, praying for them and their work and receiving regular updates on what they are doing.
The best way to find out more information is to visit the Street Pastors website here