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. 4: “The street pastors have it all wrong. Those who are the worse for drink should spend a night in the cells, then they’d think twice before repeating the performance the following weekend.”
In recent months we’ve heard various reports, petitions and news headlines warning that the time has now come to charge people for using A&E services after drinking too much. The writer of criticism no. 4 is not alone in believing that there should be real consequences or deterrents for those who drink to excess and need medical attention. There is an important debate to be had about services, costs and crisis in A&E departments.
How do street pastors fit into these debates? Critic no. 4 infers that the work of street pastors prevents people from facing the consequences of their own action. However, there are always consequences for the person who has been drinking to excess – consequences to family relationships (the anxious parent waiting at home or the angry relative or friend who has to get in their car at 2 a.m. to pick up someone who has run out of money, lost their keys or been barred from a taxi). There may be financial consequences that follow a night spent in pubs and clubs. And, of course, the person who has drunk too much will feel rough the next day. So there are consequences, but if a street pastor is on hand for someone who is vulnerable or at risk of injury because they are drunk, the consequence that is a cost to the state may be avoided.
Jesus taught that judgements and consequences apply to everyone – the one who thinks they are doing good, the one who is oblivious to the effects of their behaviour and the one who knows they have messed up. And the Bible tells us that we all ‘do the same things’ and that the riches of God’s kindness flow freely to all. The river of this grace cannot be dammed up or diverted. Many street pastors have ‘been there and done that’ when it comes to alcohol or hardcore partying. Haven’t we all messed things up in our different ways, and haven’t we all benefitted from the help of another person? Our message should be that these mistakes do not have to hang around our neck for a lifetime – Christians know the God of new beginnings.