Street Pastors reaching young people
Street Pastors have existed in the UK since 2003. Starting in London, Manchester and Birmingham, Leicester became the 4th City to adopt the scheme in 2005 and since then another 7 teams have been established in Leicestershire, the latest one covering the enormous semi-rural area of Blaby District. It is an area of 50 sq miles and has a resident population of 93,000.
Last year, the Police Inspector Mark Chell and Council Detached Youth Work department, who together make up Blaby District Safety Partnership, approached the churches in Blaby District to carry out a feasibility study to see if there was scope for a scheme. With several Churches Together groups and many ministers having responsibility for several churches, making nearly 100 churches to contact in total, it was slow going to get ministers on board. After 6 months of prayer and discussion, a group of ministers from various denominations said "yes". They were inspired after a passionate appeal by Revd Grenville Gibbins who had witnessed the 60-200 youths outside his vicarage in Blaby on Friday nights.
Other smaller villages have youth hanging round and some have(reportedly) drugs and cars and loud music, whilst others within the 11 Police beat areas have wonderful kids who have a real ownership of their village and paint old peoples’ fences and play footie with the beat bobby.
Our former Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, started off our launch on June 13th and there was a strong Police presence at that meeting. The new Inspector had taken over and he was warming to the idea of having this strange group of volunteers all over his area. Between June 2009 and January 2010, we worked hard at relationships with our secular partners, recruited Christian volunteers from Blaby District and had 7 Saturdays of training.
Having been out and about for 9 Fridays now, we have been in conversation with over 250 young people, listened to some deep issues and had a lot of fun giving out mini Easter eggs and lolly pops. We have had conversations about prayer, healing, exams, schooling, village life and the new skate park proposed for one village. We have walked one lady along the road until she felt safe to walk home on her own. Screaming girls were making quite a noise in that village and making people fearful of all teenagers (most of whom were well behaved).
One of our biggest challenges to overcome has been with churches. When we began the City Centre team, 5 years ago, we did such a good job of adapting the scheme to fit the night club economy, that many church leaders now only see Street Pastors as being a "nightclub ministry", which of course would surprise the original teams in Birmingham, Manchester and Brixton, Hackney and Peckham.
We currently have a small team of 9 and are short of females - we have only 2,which puts a strain on fielding a team every week. Being a rural team, we have had to look at transport and insurance and risk assessment in a different way to urban teams. We are currently recruiting a prayer base team and also raising funding for our coordinator.
We were successful in being awarded a grant from the CJS (Criminal Justice System) which came from a Government pot of ASBO fines, but we had to spend the money by March 2010. We have invested in renting an office for 2 years and equipping the team with some good tools, as well as having a new computer and 2 years’ worth of everything we thought we would need. The one thing we couldn’t do was put it to one side to fund our part-time coordinator, because that is regarded as a backdoor way of funding evangelism.
Whilst we may start off the evening going to where the Police and Safety Partnership have asked us to go, we also pray and our second call will be to where we feel led as a team. Our physical presence does create a more peaceful atmosphere and prove to be a calming influence on the young people hanging around, but then we often get a secondary conversation. The other week a young man followed us round the corner and, after asking for a hug, explained that his gran had recently died. We have all sorts of spiritual conversations, as well as general chats about all manner of life.
I mentioned ASBO fines earlier - this when a (usually young) person upsets a local community and is taken to court for their bad behaviour. It would be good if we could help prevent some of this trend. As Street Pastors out in the evenings, and in the places where young people hang around, perhaps we can gain their trust and help them to make better choices in life, before they get swept along by peer pressure.
We also have the question of "what next?" If the young people decide, perhaps having talked to us (any Street Pastor team) for 2 or more years, to try out "church", what will they encounter? The questions we are asked are centred on authentic experience, a deep living faith and belief in a real God who cares. So even an exciting, lively service may not be what will keep them engaged for an hour or so. Certainly most of us would want to accompany them, to ensure they are welcome across the threshold. What sort of service will they encounter? At school, they have been used to participating in problem sharing and group based learning, not sitting in rows listening to mono-directional learning. They don’t want a "seeker service" which gives a "how to" guide. They actually want to be able to be hands on, getting involved with faith - trying prayer for themselves, seeing if it works.
Young people have changed over the last 10 years and, certainly, being in the heart of their territory is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in all my years of being a Christian and active in ministry. Blaby District is just another, slightly more challenging, way of doing Street Pastors, but as we build relationships with groups of young people, we need to have strong links back into churches and church structures, so that we are ready when the first fruits start to come.