I am not sure about the Street Pastors

For those that dont know, or havent benefitted from the help of the street pastors they are a movement/group of people which started in London to provide a positive influence on the streets where gangs and knife crime was notorious, see http://www.streetpastors.co.uk/ for more information. They have undoubtedly caught the imagination within the christian family as many groups of christians in towns across Britain have been trained and now walk about these towns/cities between 11pm and 4am providing immediate support to those leaving pubs/ nightclubs etc.

The questions i have are?  Is this a form of detached youthwork?  and do they do enough?

What i have found surprising is the sheer numbers of volunteers from the church groups who would want to volunteer to do this, and yet volunteering in things like youth groups, sunday schools, even mission/evangelism is at best a struggle in most areas. Is it because its something different, something dangerous, something ‘in the world’ , something that has national recognition?  Maybe its because its a tried and tested formula in one or two places that can be replicated elsewhere, leaving it for local groups to identify their approach, timings, days and routes.  Yet like churches jumped on the alpha bandwagon as a means of evangelism, have street pastors cornered the market for City Centre mission? when other approaches are also available? is it the easy way?  For example, does a rural town need the same approach as a city like Glasgow?

Is it a form of detached youthwork?  for most this maybe isnt that important, but for some they may not think about setting up detached youthwork in an area if the street pastors are already present, yet from the limited experience i have i think there are some key differences, which dont take away the usefulness of what the Street pastors do, but nevertheless provide space for detached youthwork.

1. Detached youthwork should be about long term relationship building, starting from the point where the young person is at.  From my experience, its not good enough to only be out once or twice a month in an area, it should be 2-3 times a week, same staff, same people, so that supportive purposeful relationships are created. It may start from the sticky plaster immediate support, say if a young person is drunk, in need etc, but from those moments come opportunities to develop that contact, exchange phone numbers, meet up during the week, and create the possibility of something more sustained, whether a group or an individual.

2. Detached youthwork, starts with the Community, is in the community and for the community. It should stem from a community profile, from young peoples needs and activities, is delivered by those in the community, and is evaluated by the community. It as if research and partnership shape detached youthwork, in response to local need, and then it helps to change the community in a variety of ways, whether resourcing young people, developing activities, providing information for them to make positive decisions, advocating for them locally or something other.

3. Detached youthwork is shaped by a reflective attitude, workers should reflect on their conversations, on their ethics, values and virtues, on their response, on their relationships with young people, on the community with which they operate. All of this is encouraged as part of youthwork, whether informal or community education. It may be funded to something specific, but yet most youthworkers know that the intricate nature of the groups they work with it often takes a broader approach depending on the needs, interests or welfare of the young people, and this is got to by constant reflection.

It may be that for some street pastor groups they emphasis on relationship building, on community and reflection, but i am not sure if this are core objectives and values within the practice. I suppose that as Detached youthwork is in this instance something that has at least occurred since the 1950’s, it is the older profession here, and has also had to develop and adapt, and maybe the Street Pastors movement after this initial bout of enthusiasm will also do the same.

What happens next with the street pastors?  while sticky plasters are useful in the towns and cities for those drinking and coming out of pubs etc,  what value is a conversation with someone alcohol intoxicated? what are the ethical implications of this? especially if its not about creating the opportunity for follow up with them, when theyre not drinking?  Are the street pastors really about the reduction in alcohol misuse?  could this be an opportunity for them? Are they about building long term relationships with people, or just applying ‘sticking plasters’ in the immmediate?

I applaud the desire to do something in these situations, and knowing a city centre environment late at night with drunk young people (in a detached youthwork capacity) , it can be an intoxicating place, and a place that, up to 2003, christians avoided.

I would seek to avoid direct comparisons between the Street Pastors and detached youthwork, while from the outside there are similarities, there are key differences in approach, in philosophy of practice , aims and objectives.

However, whilst the Street Pastors are growing, and are volunteers and have caught the imagination, it does pose a threat to youthwork in communities of small resources, yet are they a long term solution to the ‘problems’ in communities?

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One comment

  1. My perhaps limited understanding of the success of the Street Pastors initiative is that town centre crime has dramatically fallen and anti-social behaviour has decreased as a result of their presence. Police readily acknowledge this and in most cases encourage and welcome the presence of these pastors. I do think that trying to have a conversation with a drunk person does raise questions but a) we should never underestimate or undermine the power of God’s love that is manifest through their actions in assisting someone in a drunken state; or b) God’s divine ability to supernaturally speak through a state of drunkeness. In my opinion Street Pastors demonstrate the servant heart of God and show His love in a very powerful and practical way.
    As for Street pastoring being a form of detatched youth work….I have never thought of it in this way and personally cant see it at all. I have been left wandering if this could be a youth worker’s overactive reflective nature seeing something that is not in reality there?
    However, i do see the point that so many christians are more than willing to give up time to ‘do’ street pastors yet will not give up time to interact with young people on the street. This is a great shame and an unfortunate illustration of many people in church’s love of the latest sucessful fad. I am not sure however that the answer for detatched youth work is to become the next fad!

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