A small press release from the Conservative MP Robert Halfron caught my eye. He wished me to know that he had attended a special church blessing for the âHarlow Street Pastorsâ. Who wouldnât be intrigued? Perhaps it is just my eclectic mind; I like to find out about things I have never heard of before. I stepped forward to be informed â and promptly disappeared down a rabbit hole of purple flip flops, government subsidised Christian pretendy policemen, and bucket loads of vomit. It has been an education.
Did you know we had religious âpoliceâ patrolling our streets â I certainly didnât? Nor that this was a government backed and âapproved by the policeâ scheme. It has been a long time since I was out lat at night in an English town â they must be so crowded these days with uniformed enforcers; patrolling litter wardens, PSCOs, policemen, street pastors, it is a wonder anyone ever manages to commit a crime.
The Harlow Street Pastors are part of an inner-city pilgrimage to do God’s work, âarmed not with Bibles, but with sick bags, flip flops and first aidâ. The organisation was set up in London in 2003 by the Rev Les Isaacs as an outreach project. It receives funding from a number of sources.
I do not question their motives in wanting to âhelpâ â but why not a multi-faith approach, or better still, a faith free approach â just âStreet Walkersâ or similar?Â Maybe not.
It is the notion that these are particularly âChristianâ volunteers coming to your aid that is so dangerous, not only blurring the line between State and Church via their funding, but inviting the setting up of other âfaith groupâ volunteers equally patrolling with their very own uniform. Though given the choice between opposing groups of volunteers offering to see you home after the pub has closed I fancy the drunken revellers might vote for the volunteer claiming the ability to turn water into wine rather than condemn the demon drink.
The group is clearly professional. They train for 60 hours at a cost of Â£300 (this, and their uniform, is where the funding comes in) and undergo CRB checks and qualify for the requirement to âbe known over a period of timeâ by citing 12 months membership of a church.
âElly Mulvany, Street Pastors area co-ordinator, said: ‘We trained another 18 volunteers this year with Â£8,000 funding from the Safer Portsmouth Partnership.
Along with Â£15,000 funding from Portsmouth NHS, we have been able to sustain our work on the streets with bigger teams. We have been made very welcome by pub managers and door staff as well as the public who value our role of listening, caring and helping.’
The Devon and Cornwall Police website is very supportive of the scheme and offer a hotline number to assist in fundraising. They are quite specific on the requirements to volunteer to âhelp outâ on the late night streets.
To be a Street Pastor you need to be over 18 (no upper age limit), a church member and able to commit to a training programme.
In Scunthorpe, funding came from âA grant of Â£1,900 has come from North Lincolnshire Homes (NLH) and Â£1,500 from the Police Tribuneâ Â£500 was also donated by the family of Louis Wainwright, who died aged 18 in March this year after a night out where it was thought he took then legal drug Mephedrone. The cash will also be used to buy essentials like flip flops and vomit bags which the pastors give out to those they help every weekend.â
Ah yes, the flip flops – purple, charismatic, memorable, Bishopric, Episcopal purple, flip flops are handed out to those whose shoes have become too tight, or worse, gone missing, after a nights revelry. When you wake in the morning and bizarrely find yourself wearing purple flip flops, you will remember you were Godded home by the good volunteers.
A grateful Mum speaks: âMy 20 year old daughter is in her 3rd year at Chester Uni training to be a Children’s Nurse. Last night she went out into Wrexham with 3 of her friends to celebrate passing all her exams and assignments and to look forward to her last and final year of training. On leaving the nightclub in the ‘early hours’, the 4 girls were all ‘shoe-less’ from dancing and celebrating all night, and all a little ‘worse for wear’! This morning she presented me with a pair of purple flip flops, she told me that when the girls left the club they were greeted by some Christians, who gave them the flip flops to walk to the taxi rank, fastened their shoes around their necks and were ‘very kind’.
It is said by the organisers that the purpose of this group is not to preach the word of God to drunken students, but to show concern for âyoung people who feel marginalised and excluded from societyâ. All fine and dandy, but (disclaimer â this is an internet forum âcommentâ from HERE and I know better than to claim anything I find on the Internet can be assumed to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!) Listen to Kateâs tale:
After being a Street Pastor for two and half years I was thrown out for being gay. Sadly, they wouldnât back down on their decision that I canât be a gay person *and* a Christian, as one of them pointed out to me âThatâs like saying youâre a Satanist and a Christian â the two things just donât go togetherâ Not that I wished to get into a theological debate with anyone, but I did expect my fellow Christians to treat me equally (A little naive in hindsight). I have also been on patrol with them when they told gay people they have met that they canât find Jesus until they rid themselves of the sin of homosexuality. This behaviour seems to run contrary to the Street Pastor’s official objectives; I donât believe the people at the top tier level of this well intended organization are in touch with how the Street Pastors conduct themselves at ground level. At its core, judgement and the obligatory Christian ego of superiority is as rife with the Street Pastors as it is inside of a Church. In my home town we are already sensing a backlash towards them; hopefully this will eventually lead to a stop in public money being used to fund these people.
Why do I find all this strangely troubling and disturbing? Any thoughts?