‘A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year for a journey….. The very dead of winter.’
The opening lines of ‘The Journey of the Magi’ by T.S.Eliot. This poem refers to Epiphany when Jesus was ‘presented’ to the world but they are words to which many Church Members will relate as they leave the warmth and comfort of their homes to go out onto the streets of our towns and cities, working through the night with those who have been enjoying themselves in pubs and clubs, or who hang around the streets through loneliness.
Street Pastors, Street Angels and other similar groups are one of the good news stories of the Christian Church in recent years. Putting aside theological and other differences, churches of various denominations come together in order to offer the world of the night time economy practical caring and a ministry of prayer. Teams of all ages (over 18) are trained to work alongside the police, night club door staff and those who marshal the taxi ranks, supporting young (and not so young) people on Friday and Saturday nights through to the early hours of the morning. While they do this, often there are Prayer Teams at their ‘base’ keeping in touch with them and praying for the people they encounter.
Although the understanding is that Street Pastors should not be there to ‘convert’ and are certainly not there to judge the behaviour they witness (which is often fuelled by alcohol and other drugs), their very
presence on the streets at 3.00am in the pouring rain often leads people to ask “Why do you do this?” and this is when Jesus is introduced into the conversation – and from personal experience this is the point when the discussions really get going!
Those of us who have had the privilege of sharing in this ministry know that there is a genuine and lively interest in spirituality and in God among the young people we meet. We hear of ‘Nans’ who go to Church and the impact they have had; of questions about “‘if God exists, why do bad things happen” and (sadly) how “I’m not good enough to be a Christian!”. Organised religion does not tend to figure in the discussion unless it is to share bad experiences or the general assumption that going to church is ‘boring!’, but there is often a genuine appreciation of individual clergy and ministers who have helped families.
We believe that this is the kind of ministry that Jesus offered and feel very aware as we exercise it that Jesus is with us on the streets and in the Night Churches, encountering these people through us - people whom more conventional forms of outreach have failed to touch. It is a demanding ministry – spiritually, mentally and certainly physically! Yet it is also very rewarding and one that has been applauded and appreciated by secular bodies who not only see ‘the Church’ at work but the positive effects of what we as Christians have to offer. Our willingness to engage has sometimes caused those most sceptical about allowing ‘do-gooders’ to become involved, to reassess their opinions and ask questions about their own beliefs.
Some of the groups in our Diocese have now been running for several years and a number of the first volunteers are stepping down or have moved on. It is really crucial that they are replaced and we keep the momentum going. If you think that perhaps God is calling you to this ministry then your Parish Priest should be able to tell you of your nearest group but failing this, please do contact me and I will be pleased to help.
This is a real opportunity for the Christian Church to ‘present’ Jesus to the world and put faith into action. It is the kind of ministry that truly does transform communities and sows seed that will one day bear much fruit.
The Right Reverend Geoff Annas
Bishop of Stafford