Contributed by Ros Davies
Criticism of street pastors occasionally appears on the letters pages of local newspapers or online. Perhaps you’ve heard someone question the role of the street pastor, or even asked the questions yourself. In this series of blogs I will list some of these published negative comments. In answering them my hope is not to dismiss such observations but allow them to tell us something about how we relate to each other and how, through the Street Pastors initiative, we might be able to find new ways to talk about spiritual subjects.
Critic no. 3: “What’s the point in these guys? They wander around the city at night on Fridays and Saturdays giving water, hot towels* and a helping hand to drunks, but has anyone ever converted or gone to church because of this the next day?”
In the early days of the initiative there was anxiety among statutory bodies that street pastors would turn out to be evangelists and street preachers. Street pastors have demonstrated, to the contrary, that although they are motivated by their Christian faith, their primary aim is to provide practical care.
This critic assumes, like others before them, that street pastors must have an ulterior motive. Christians are getting out into their communities, playing their part in public life, taking their place alongside other partners who work for the safety of a city – but what do they really want? This can’t be the whole story. They might be busy doing all this, but don’t forget (I hear this critic say) that a Christian’s number one aim is to tell other people about God.
Street pastors believe that the ‘whole story’ is exactly what Jesus cared about. Jesus was concerned for the whole person – their physical health, their mental well-being, their family relationships, their sense of belonging. All of this and their spiritual state of health. So, following Jesus, street pastors and many other Christian-led initiatives and projects, take it as their primary responsibility to be a channel for Jesus’s love for the world through social action – to be involved in the issues and problems that are manifested on our high streets.
Through street pastors we are starting to see new arenas for spiritual conversations. Street pastors meet people who have spiritual questions that they want to ask and these conversations are taking place right there and then on the street. Street pastors have enabled a new engagement with the Christian faith. Right from the outset the public have asked ‘Who are you?’, ‘Where do you come from?’ and ‘Why do you do what you do?’ The answers to these basic questions are that street pastors are the Church in action, meeting the practical needs that are on its doorstep.
In the final blog in this series, Critic no. 4 argues that street pastors should step aside so that real deterrents for antisocial behaviour can be implemented.
*I don’t think street pastors give out hot towels.