Wednesday, December 02, 2009

There's Probably No Street Pastors, Now Stop Vomiting and Get Home by Yourself

Hands up who thinks this is a 'success':

I thought I would provide a small success story Westminster Unison had regarding Street Pastors, which were nearly introduced at Westminster City Council. Following a complaint made by myself, and a letter to Newsline, outlining the reasons why a local authority should not pay for the Ascension Trust, an evangelical Christian group, to patrol the streets, I was informed this week that Westminster has now withdrawn the proposal.

or this a 'victory'

After some persistence on my part, however, the Council undertook something called an Equalities Impact Assessment, which had to acknowledge the fact that, under the aims of the scheme Street Pastors could only be recruited from "individuals with a Christian Faith" and was also only open to those "whose relationship lifestyle is in keeping with mainstream Christian teaching" – i.e. no gays or lesbians, thank you.

I have just received confirmation from a slightly embarrassed Council official that the scheme will receive no further public funding, and wanted to share with your readership a small, but satisfying, victory against the encroachment of religion into public life. I would even go out on Friday night to celebrate, but the Street Pastors are still out there after my soul.

I'm caught between bewilderment and boiling blood at the sheer short-sightedness of this 'secularism at any cost' approach. The real losers will be the clubbers, who SP's are there to look out for, help where needed, and be a listening ear for. The police and emergency services jobs will get a little bit harder too. In both cases there'll probably be enough financial support from the churches to make up the difference, but there are obviously some very odd ideas out there of what the Pastors do.

In the last few months I've heard of young children found sleeping rough by SP's on a Saturday night who were got back home, someone else who was about to commit suicide who talked it through with some Street Pastors and changed their mind, fights avoided, vulnerable women protected from people trying to bundle them into cars, you name it. These are the people Street Pastors help.

At the same time if someone asks why we're doing it, they'll get an honest answer. That gives all sorts of opportunities for people to sound off about God, get into deep theological argument, or walk away - and that's completely up to them. At no point is there any attempt to evangelise or exploit people who are slightly worse for wear. If there was, the police would quite rightly tell us to go back home. As it is, police in several areas are actively inviting the local churches to set up Street Pastor initiatives, as it's recognised that they do some good.

So what's the problem? That if a group is motivated by their faith to do something of public benefit, then it shouldn't get any funding. You can be motivated by anything else, and we won't complain, but we can't have Christians doing good, because, well, they're Christians. And? We have a night shelter for the homeless in Yeovil, originally set up by Christians, now passed on to other leadership. And the Lords Larder, which gives out hundreds of food parcels in partnership with Social Services - the clue is in the name. Both work in partnership with secular agencies, and have received support from non-church sources. Does the council have to wait for agnostic charities to set up before it's allowed to fund them, or can it support positive action no matter who does it, or whether or not they are motivated by some kind of faith?

Perhaps the problem is the conviction that there must be an ulterior motive. That wouldn't be unreasonable - every other stranger who acts friendly is usually a salesman or a Scientologist. The church itself sometimes gets in a muddle over 'friendship evangelism' - friends are not friends if they're just people you are getting to know so you can invite them to church. So that suspicion is understandable. And of course if clubbers show some interest in the Christian faith, they'll be encouraged in that. A comparison: our local MP and councillors all represent political parties. They'll work on behalf of constituents of any political conviction, but if those constituents show signs of supporting the LibDems, or whoever, then that will be encouraged, but the help isn't made conditional on people's political viewpoints. Same with Street Pastors - the help isn't conditional, but enquiries are welcomed.

There are clearly a lot of myths about Street Pastors doing the rounds, so lets nail a few:
- SP's main aim is to be a pastoral presence on the streets, to look out for and help the vulnerable where appropriate. They are not 'after your soul'.

- We work in partnership with the police and council, and involve the police in the (quite intensive) training, which all SP's must complete. That includes drug awareness, conflict management, alcohol awareness, youth culture, probation, child protection etc.

- There is no attempt to 'get people when they're vulnerable'. If folk want to talk about God, the SP's are happy to listen. But there's no preaching. The proof of this is simply to see what happens where SP's are in operation - if they were going round Bible bashing people, most clubbers would either run a mile or beat them up. As well as being extremely bad practice, it would be self-defeating. We'd also not have any Street Pastors, as nobody would sign up to that sort of job description.

- People know what we stand for, it's no secret that these are people from the churches, so there's nothing covert or underhand going on.

- The point of the uniforms is so that SP's are recognisable, that there's some 'brand recognition' that these are safe people who'll look after you and make sure you're ok. There's some suggestion that SP's make too much of what they do, and that proper Christians would do it in secret. Fair point, but the uniforms are very helpful - ask anyone else who wears one as part of their work. A complete stranger with no identification turning up to 'help' a group of clubbers would be pretty suspicious.

- Each SP commits to raising the money (around £300 for training, uniforms, etc.) themselves, many are supported by churches, but we find that the local community/agencies want to support the initiative as well. We had one grant in Yeovil from a local councillor who decided to apply on our behalf. If that support is available, then great - the fact that SP's is primarily a Christian charity shouldn't prevent local authorities and agencies from supporting it. The British Humanist Association recently got a grant from national government, but not many people are suggesting they pay it back.

- SP's will deal equally with everyone they come across: male, female, gay, straight, drunk, sober etc. etc.

Meanwhile here is a long list of the awards that SP's have recieved from local communities who appreciate what they do, and here is an account from an Essex MP of what Street Pastors do in Chelmsford. Simon Burns MP quotes the following statistics:

In Lewisham there was a 30% reduction in street crime in the first 13 weeks that they were operating, in Camberwell a 95% reduction and in Peckham 74%. In Chelmsford they have made an immediate and significant impact.

a few other links
positive noises here on ConservativeHome.
Derby police nominate local SP's for award.
SP's praised by police for bringing down crime in Kingston.
Home Office paper which mentions Street Pastors as an example of good public sector/charity partnership in community safety.
Example of what's going on in Taunton, where they offer a 'safe space' for folk to wait for friends and taxis, and recover from a heavy night in a safe place, rather than in a hedge.
Good explanation of the SP ethos in this BBC Scotland report.
SP's in Bridgend praised by police and welcomed by the council.

and so on...

I don't have the stats for Yeovil yet, but we were told by the town centre beat manager a couple of weeks ago that recorded crime had been steadily dropping on a Saturday night since the Street Pastors started up here, and they're very keen for us to do Friday's too. We've just interviewed about 17 applicants to join the team, and hopefully will start doing Friday and Saturday nights from the spring of 2010.

We could run Street Pastors without funding from the council - it would make the £300 fee a bit tougher for some of the folk who do it, but many of them would probably manage to raise it anyway. Even without the funding, we want to do it in partnership with the council and the police, because that's what works best. And local councillors around the UK clearly see it as something worth supporting. Some people may be opposed in principle to anything done by Christians, but there's not much we can do about that except say: come and see what really happens, and then make up your mind.

Final point: it's been argued that Street Pastors should let folk of any faith or none sign up. In some places this happens - there are 'street angel' projects in several towns. However, it seems a little bizarre to insist that if Christians want to get together to do something of benefit to the public, that they have to let anyone else join in. Surely the important thing is that the benefit is open to all, rather than the membership.

It's a positive thing that Christians want to do this, and do it in partnership with the police and the local authority. That partnership is healthier than forcing the church to go it alone, and freezing it out of any partnership because we're motivated by a set of values and beliefs that some other people don't agree with. Even if your vision is of a secular society, that vision will only work if people with faith and people without it are able to live and work together.

PS Blogger comments has gone a bit weird, I keep getting error messages during the review process, so they may take a bit of time to appear.

15 comments:

  1. These street pastors want my money.

    Tell them to get their own money.

    Their work is so important the church does not want to pay for it, but wants any publicity it can get about what fantastic work the church is doing.

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  2. D, Interesting article, thank you.

    As someone who is an avid supporter of secularism I can honestly say I see both sides of this story. There seems to be ample here to be suspicious about if you feel that proselytising to vulnerable people isn't exactly cricket; but if what you say is true then I see no problem with it, in fact I would applaud the effort (as long as suitable controls are in place). I did read a story about police helping to hand out rucksacks with Bibles in them; I don't know if that was true or not, but I would hope that everyone can see the problem with that (i.e. authority + proselytising for one single section of the community = bad news). I also read that the largest objection to this have so far come from other religions rather than non-believers, some calling it a "blatant recruitment drive".

    The only part of your article that I would disagree with is the notion that only Christians can participate; the reason you give kind of suggests (to me at least) that having a uniform and being a Christian somehow validates your motives, I think the various abuse scandals in Ireland and elsewhere have put paid to that myth. You say that if Christians do something then why should they have to involve others, I think that would normally be a perfectly fair comment, it's your idea, your time & your sweat etc. but I don't think it's a reasonable constraint if the funding comes from the community in the first place. The BHA does get funding as you point out, but I believe it's charter says it's open to all, religious or not.

    PS. I recommend the bus slogan generator for your headline, ruletheweb dot co dot uk slash b3ta slash bus.. :)

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  3. Steve - thanks for the comment, I think you're right about Ireland, and in a way that puts a question mark over every part of the church, not just Irish Catholicism. Trust has to be earned. I'm not saying that the uniform validates our motives: it can cut both ways - if Street Pastors end up with a bad reputation, the uniform will scream 'AVOID', but hopefully it's seen as a positive bit of 'branding' by clubbers, and that seems to be borne out by the response of most people in the nightime scene. It's also why we work hard on partnership with the council and the police. The funding primarily comes from the Street Pastors themselves, my argument is to question why they should be ruled out of other sources of support simply for being a Christian initiative.

    I was tempted to use the bus slogan thingy, thanks for the reminder.

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  4. Steven - as I said in the post, Street Pastors aim to fund themselves, and the church supports them. But if local agencies offer financial support as well, then it's happily accepted. I'm not aware of any local charity which refuses council grants as a point of principle.

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  5. Raises hand. David I really think you're worringly wrong on most of this post. Here's where I'm coming from.

    I think that Street Pastors/Angels/Ministers is a terrific idea. The night in towns is a dangerous time and there are people in need of help that the police don't have time to help. So with that in mind, I happy about my money as a South Somerset Council Tax payer going towards the Street Pastor project rather than nothing.

    But, here's my point, the choice isn't between Street Pastors and nothing, it could be between an exclusive way of helping people and an inclusive way.

    Street Pastors is different to Street Angels and Street Ministers, see if you can spot it.

    streetpastors.co.uk
    "To be a Street Pastor you need to be over 18 (no upper age limit), a church member and able to commit to our training programme."

    streetangels.org.uk
    "...you do not have to be a Christian or be part of a church to volunteer (in fact some of our best volunteers would not call themselves Christian), although we ask you be respectful that this is a Christian inititive and we start each evening with prayer..."

    streetministers.org
    "We are open to volunteers from all members of the public, no matter what your belief system might be, So long as you have a caring heart. You may be a Christian, or of any faith, or no-faith persuasion."

    So, out of the three Street Helper models in this country, Yeovil have gone for the only one that doesn't want the help of any non-Christian and I don't really understand why.

    If the aim of the project is to help Yeovil night clubbers, as you say it is, then it doesn't seem sensible to me to exclude people who could be your best volunteers. Especially when you use this blog to spread the idea that because Street Pastors is doing good work it somehow shows that Christians are nicer than non-Christians.

    Allowing non-Christians haven't harmed the Street Angel or Street Ministers so what's the justification for Street Pastors being a closed shop?

    Sorry David but I'm disappointed that you actively celebrate discrimination against non-Christians. I had hoped you were a better person than that.

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  6. Thanks Andy. The main point I'm trying to make in the post is that council funding shouldn't be denied to Street Pastors just because it's a church initiative.

    But yes, there are other ways of doing it. The local examples which we've seen in action and learned from are all Street Pastor type ones, and we've been able to recruit a decent number of folk from within the churches. So we've gone for the model we've seen working in practice, and if there was a queue of the general public beating on the door to be involved then things might be different.

    Where am I actively celebrating discrimination against non-Christians? I don't really get that point, unless you think it applies to any positive comment I happen to make about Christians and what they get up to. Do you actively celebrate discrimination against people who aren't members of your union, or are they just not members of your union?

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  7. There isn't a banging on the door to help out Street Pastors because there's a big sign on the door saying "Go Away Non-Christians we don't want you." If you were doing the Street Angels model of working then I would be amazed if you didn't have non-Christians wanting to work with you to help, I certainly would like to help.

    Do I discriminate against non-trade unionists in my work - no because that would be illegal, I can't represent them because I'm not allowed to, but do offer some advice and point them in the right direction to get help if they need it. And if we were doing a UNISON backed event like the Hope not Hate stuff we did in Chard over the summer and someone who's not a trade unionist wanted to help (as many did) they were more than welcome, if the activity is important, I don't care who helps me.

    Do you discriminate against non-Christians, yes you do, you picked the one model that said no Christians allowed over the one that actively wants non-Christians involved. You've only explained that that was the local examples that you saw in action - why didn't you go to see a Street Angels set up to see if that worked? Is that because you didn't want to see non-Christians being good people.

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  8. "Is that because you didn't want to see non-Christians being good people" of course not, and if that's the kind of motive you're prepared to assume then I don't sense this discussion going much further. With Street Pastors there were local examples we could learn from, a national support network, enthusiasm from local churches - and therefore some hope that it would work - and encouragement from the police and council. You've got to start somewhere, and this is where we started, it made a lot of sense, and it's working. If we do 'discriminate' against non-Christians, then we do so in the same way that the Round Table (who are, mostly, non-Christians being good people) discriminates against women.

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  9. And if it was a Round Table blogger explaining how he thought it bizarre that anyone could suggest that women should be able to help out with some project the Round Table were doing then I would be having exactly the same disagreement with him. The argument that other organisations discriminate so it's okay if my organisation disciminates simply isn't a good one.

    I do take your point about motivations though and I apologise, it's impossible to know what your motivations are for excluding non-Christians. But here are the facts as I see them.

    1) Yeovil churches had a choice between the Street Pastors model (Christians only) and the Street Angels model (everyone who can help welcome, but respect it's a Christian-led project).

    2) Both models seem to be achieving similar results.

    3) Yeovil churches went for the exclusive model

    4) You blog regularly on the success of Street Pastors and how good Christians are being in helping the community in need.

    5) You never mentioned the fact that you actively stop non-Christians from helping with Street Pastors until yesterday when you described the idea of non-Christians helping with the Street Pastors project as "bizarre"

    6) You don't seem to understand why I'm upset as a non-Christian about (5)

    You do exclude non-Christians, to me you seem like you're saying that no non-Christian help could be worthwhile. Non-Christians can help Street Pastors, can help the people who need help in Yeovil at 2 o'clock in the morning. The Yeovil Churches involved in SP have decided that they want to shut non-Christians like myself out, but they would still like non-Christians like myself to fund the project.

    It surely would be very easy for the Yeovil Churches to say - okay, we want more/better** volunteers and so we'll take that sign off the door that says "Non-Christians, go away"

    If you don't like me assuming what your motivations are, then please tell me why you don't want non-Christians to be involved?

    ** I'm not suggesting that non-Christians will be better volunteers, but in the pool of non-Christian potential volunteers there will be very good volunteers if you only let them have a chance to help.

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  10. One of the chief aims of Street Pastors is to mobilise the church to respond to street crime. There's a national SP booklet on this at http://www.streetpastors.co.uk/Portals/0/Street%20Pastors/In%20Use/documents/SP_booklet.pdf So the aim is to mobilise Christians to pray and to do something practical to help. It's not "how do we keep non-Christians out" but "how do we get Christians engaged with this". As I said before, we've got to start somewhere.

    Andy I think your challenge is a good one for SP's at it develops: other places are starting after-school patrols where there's disorder issues, or looking for schemes in smaller centres of population where there are crime hotspots during the week. If SP really does work, the logic would suggest that we need them in all of these places, but the volunteer pool from the churches is limited, so.....

    In a different sphere, we have church-run parent and baby groups which have a Christian ethos, prayers and songs, but provide facilities, advertising, encouragement etc. to non-church groups trying to provide for the same demographic, and Westfield is an example of that. Sure Start has a different motivation and objectives to ourselves, but the end result is pretty similar, and we help each other out where we can. I'm not sure there'd be the same numbers of people involved if the core values and objectives of each group were merged into one, you'd lose a bit of the motivation. SP's has attracted people as a chance to put their faith into practice, and do something practical: it would need to be a different 'sell' to recruit people from non-faith backgrounds, but then does that sow the seeds of the SP's themselves not all pulling in the same direction, if they have different visions of why they're doing it? I'm thinking aloud here....

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  11. It is interesting that you should mention Sure Start. Although Sure Start has a secular ethos, Christians are allowed to work there, either as paid staff or as a volunteer. Of course that’s completely right and I wouldn’t want Christians excluded from Sure Start, but I wonder how you would feel if there was such a policy. Possibly the same as I feel about being told that I’m not allowed to help out with Street Pastors because of my (lack of) religious faith.

    But ultimately I think this hinges on what Street Pastors is for:

    If it exists in order to help people, then really how sensible is it to exclude people for such a silly reason, allowing non-Christians to help would allow the project to help more people.

    But if SP exists in order for Christians to “have the chance to put their faith into practice” then that’s great, and I have no right to interfere, but don’t ask me to pay for it and don’t pretend that you’re doing it for anyone else’s benefit but yourselves.

    It’s within the power of Yeovil Street Pastors to allow non-Christians. If the Yeovil Churches cannot find it in your hearts play fair by non-Christians then Yeovil Street Pastors should not be publically funded and I will do my best to stop any future funding coming your way.

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  12. It seems that peoople always overeact to anything Christians do especially if they restrict membership to a particular activity like Street Pastors. In support of this I would make the following comment.
    There are many other religious,secular and political organisations that operate in exactly the same manner as Christian orgnanisaions. Most have in common the following facts:
    1.They draw no discriminatory line in who they help.
    2.On occasion they will work with other organisations.
    3.When it comes to areas of their own beliefs, agendas and manifestos they only involve their own members.
    So what is wrong with this? As an example can anyone see the Labour party inviting the Tories to help draft their manifesto and vice versa. There are many occassiona when religious and non relgious organisations work together but draw a line at intereference with their own beliefs or constitions.
    As a Street Pastor myself our remit is to help people not to proselytise but that doesn't mean that we have to refuse to answer the question as to why we do what we do. Even though we do need finace to enable us to do our work, there have been many times when I have refused to take money from people and they can't understand why. But the main reason is that there are always people waiting to put us down for collecting money just as those who are ready to accuse us of proselytising. Over the past year on the streets of Cardiff I have been overwhelmed by the encouraging reactions of those revelers on the streets, the securtiy staff, taxi ambassadors, paramedics and police all who recognise the difference that we make helping people whatever race, religion, culture, gay, hetro or bi sexual the list is without exception. It saddens me greatly that there is a voice out there that obects to funding organisations because they may hold beliefs they don't share irrespective of the good those organsiations do. It is because of our beliefs that we are prepared to help those that most people would walk past or look down upon as underserving of help.

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  13. Martyn, I have no problem with Street Pastors if they want to help people. I'll pose you the same question that David didn't answer, how would you feel if something like Sure Start refused to allow a Christian to volunteer because they were Christian. Would it be okay to discriminate against Christians if the service being provided was open to Christians?

    That's not my position, but it seems to be the flip side of what you and David are saying.

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  14. After being a Street Pastor for two and half years I was thrown out for being gay. Sadly, they wouldn’t back down on their decision that I can’t be a gay person *and* a Christian, as one of them pointed out to me “That’s like saying you’re a Satanist and a Christian – the two things just don’t go together”

    Not that I wished to get into a theological debate with anyone, but I did expect my fellow Christians to treat me equally.

    I have also been on patrol with them when they told gay people they have met that they can’t find Jesus until they rid themselves of the sin of homosexuality.

    This behaviour seems to run contrary to the Ascension Trust’s objectives, I don’t believe the people at the top tier level of this good organization are in touch with how the Street Pastors conduct themselves at ground level.


    Yet again I find there to be a wide gap between what Christians say and do.

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  15. Thanks for commenting Kate - I'm very sorry and pretty shocked that what you report has happened in a Street Pastors group, and I'm sure you're right that this wouldn't be supported by the Ascension Trust. The folk I've worked with on Street Pastors have been pretty balanced and sensible, but clearly that doesn't apply to everyone. If I was aware of our local Street Pastors being that judgmental I'd be looking for an urgent meeting with the management committee.

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