Session: Practical assignment – a night out as an observer with one of my local teams
Cake: coffee and walnut, mini flapjacks, mini chocolate brownies
The evening began for me, as it must do for hundreds of other street pastors, with putting on lots of layers to stay warm. I would be wearing the hi-viz Street Pastors Observer jacket (not the official uniform and coat), so I could go freestyle with my own jumpers, coat and hat.
At the base, the team leader made sure that the phones were charged and radios were working, and then checked in with CCTV. The team gradually took shape as people arrived – two prayer pastors and seven street pastors. I was struck by a lovely camaraderie among the group and the shared awareness of different people’s strengths and qualities. We prayed for each other and for the people we would meet through the night, then divided up into a team of three and a team of four.
The team leader proposed the route for the first part of the evening and off we went. At this early stage the night was quiet and our main job was chatting to door staff and police.
I watched how the others behaved and interacted, with an acute sense that I was seeing with beginner’s eyes. It was not just that the city looked different because I was now a ‘service provider’ and not a punter, or that I saw things going on that shocked me. What made me feel that I was only seeing with beginner’s eyes was the way that the rest of the team were so observant and so awake – to everything from body language to broken glass. In the first half of the shift we picked up a lot of discarded bottles and glasses: how many of these do you think I noticed? Only one out of forty-something. “You’ll get your eye in” the others said when I commented on their incredible peripheral vision.
It noticed how my habit was to track one person or incident and focus on that more or less to the exclusion of other things. As a street pastor I need to be aware of the whole scene. I need to make eye contact with one person but be aware of nearby risks or developments at the same time.
It’s good to be aware of a new way of doing things. It’s good to see things anew. How many times have I sleep-walked down the high street? How often have I only seen what is familiar or non-threatening and ignored the rest? Now is the time for me to learn to see in a new way, get rid of my illusions, be watchful and prayerful.
Ros Davies is a freelance writer and communications consultant