From the Rectory
February 2008



Churches from across the City are joining together with the Police, Council and Nightclub Managers to set up a STREET PASTOR SCHEME. At special Meetings in March they will hear the experience of the Ascension Trust who has established such schemes across the Country (and recently in both Fairoak and Portsmouth).

The Trust writes;

STREET PASTORS is an interdenominational Church response to neighbourhood problems; engaging with people on the streets and in night-time venues to care, listen, dialogue and offer practical help. The role is not about preaching heaven and hell, but one of caring, listening and helping.

It is hoped that a Management Committee to take the Scheme forward will be formed following the Meetings and then an appeal will be made to Church members to volunteer to undertake the training that is required to become a Street Pastor. The aim is to have the Pastors working with the young people of our City from the summer of 2009, offering support on the streets of Southampton into the early hours as they come from the various pubs and clubs.

Several members of the Southampton City Churches have been meeting at Freemantle Rectory to discuss the above proposals. To have a better idea of what it might involve, Mr Chris Davis from Southampton City Mission and I went out with the Portsmouth team. The following explains what happened.

Portsmouth Street Pastors

A reflection on the events of the evening of 11th. January 2008 It was cold, wet and very windy. The Street Pastors met, discussed recent events and any issues that had arisen. As well as the Street Pastors there was a group of Prayer Pastors who prayed for the Street Pastors before and whilst they were on duty. They also made tea and coffee and kept the prayers going throughout the night.

The Street Pastors ranged in age from a young man not quite eighteen years old to a man in his early seventies and all ages in between. Both sexes were represented equally in the Street Pastor and Prayer Pastor groups. They were very much a cohesive and mutually supporting group. The Street Pastors and the Prayer Pastors were complementary, each being an essential part of the process. The age of the Pastors was not seen as an issue, old and young held equal respect and the confidence of the punters, the wide age range was considered to be a good thing, some finding it easier to be approached by a young person and others an older one. The Street Pastors were sent on their way at 10.00 p.m. with prayers. They carried wet wipes and 'flip flops' for women who might have lost their shoes and men I suspect!

Portsmouth city centre, despite we were told it was a quiet night was, it seemed to me, heaving with hundreds of young men and women out clubbing. The University was only just going back after the Christmas break, grants had yet to come through and most people were broke after the Christmas season. The women were dressed as if it was a summer evening, no coats or weather proof clothing for men or women. Many of them had clearly drunk too much or were the worse for drug use (I've no proof of drugs being used). The atmosphere was a genial one. I do not go into city centres at midnight, but I did not feel threatened or intimidated at all. I wore a luminous jacket with Street Pastor Observer on it, so was clearly visible and identifiable.

The Police were supportive and easy to approach. The punters were also good humoured and willing to chat. There was a large police presence. The Street Pastors worked as two groups and were monitored throughout their time on the streets by a leader. Every encounter was documented and recorded. The Club doormen were also welcoming of our presence. This level of respect was not evident at the beginning of their work in Portsmouth. Originally the Police had said, 'Keep out of our way; we've enough to get on with.' However that has changed to, 'You deal with that and we'll be freed up to deal with more serious matters.' The Street Pastors as well as looking for vulnerable people to help, removed glass bottles and drinks cans that had been left on the street. A couple of homeless folk were given hot drinks from nearby cafes and checked that they were alright, they recognised some of the homeless as regulars and people out clubbing recognised some of the Street Pastors. It was pointed out that the Pastors were not there to look after the homeless, that was a separate issue, however they kept an eye out for them as they were amongst the most vulnerable. At least one young girl, not homeless, was always there on a Friday night, looking like a homeless person, but in fact begging. Some of the doormen had shown interest in joining the Street Pastors. As an observer there seemed to be little going on this particular night. It was very noisy but people were calm. There was a real sense of respect for the Street Pastors and the work that they do. They are being encouraged to go out on Saturday evenings as well as Fridays, a clear indication that they are valued and doing good work. The largest club in Portsmouth had adopted Street Pastors as its charity to support this year bringing welcome funding which is always under threat.

The group returned to base at midnight to warm up and have a drink. Records were gathered and reports written. After about 45 minutes the group returned to the city centre for a second session until 3.00a.m. The second session was thought to be the most likely to have incidents, because of the time and the fact that even more alcohol would have been consumed. We did not go out on the second session. Coming home I wished I had. I could well imagine that this work could be addictive; it all seemed a bit tame after. I did wonder if the experience of simply observing might have been very different to that of being a Pastor. I look forward to finding out.

If ever there was a practical response to the gospel message of Luke 10:30-37, this is it.

Yours for Christ's sake.