Following a launch last May to recruit more pastors, Aston Christian Centre inBirmingham (UK), with a membership of approximately 400, now has 20 pastors.And senior pastor at the church, Rev. Calvin Young, along with associate pastors,Rev. Sandra Thomas and Rev. Michael Royal, hopes to expand the pastoral team evenfurther before long. But why would a church of 400 members need all of 20 pastors? Why would itstill be on the lookout to recruit even more? And what on earth will all these pastorsbe doing in one church? Quite a fair bit, in actual fact, and they have already beendoing it out on the streets of Aston, Lozells and Handsworth, to be more precise. Theyare the street pastors, part of a growing team across the UK, who have literally beentaking the streets by storm in several cities where gun and drug related crimes haveset in with gangrenous effects. They patrol the streets from 10 o’clock at night to 3 or4 o’clock in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays and get involved in anything fromsimply smiling and saying hello, to praying for people, diffusing potential gang fightsor referring people to social service agencies that can assist with housing, drugaddiction problems, domestic violence issues, education and a host of other socialneeds. Street pastors typically go through a training course of 12 full Saturdaysstretched over six months. After the fourth week, they start going on the streets, whilethey continue their training. Seven street pastors graduated officially from the training programme at AstonChristian Centre recently. It was the first batch from the centre and the remaining 11are expected to fully complete their training at different times in the coming months. But it is hard to tell the graduates apart from those still in training. They are allclad in the distinctive blue shirt and coat with ‘street pastor’ emblazoned across thebacks. They are all bubbling over with an enthusiasm for what they do and they allhave amazing stories to tell of how God has used them to make differences in thelives of countless people who would not normally attend regular church services. Associate pastor, Rev. Michael Royal, himself one of the seven graduates, saidbeing a street pastor was about listening dialoguing, caring and being a visiblepresence on the streets in troubled areas. “Our fellowship became involved in the initiative in response to gang violenceand the gun culture here in Aston and the surrounding communities of Lozells andHandsworth,” he said. “I was concerned personally and that’s why I became a streetpastor. David Summers, another graduate, said he has been a street pastor since lastApril. He recalled the incident when four girls from Birmingham were shot, two ofthem fatally, and said he felt there was not enough being done to address the issuesthat led up to the incident. “I wanted to make a practical difference in my community.” he said, “That’swhy I decided to become a street pastor.” David said being on the streets has been interesting and fulfilling. He alsorecalled an incident where a girl rang the street pastors hotline for assistance,subsequently started visiting the Aston Church and, along with several of her children,eventually got baptized. “She is still in fellowship here,” David said. “We are not aggressive in ourapproach,” he continued. “Listening is key. Sometimes we go into pubs. Sometimeswe will just sit there and have a drink and people will often approach us. Dependingon what they say, we let the conversation flow from there.
“Many of the people we speak with are backsliders so we get opportunities toencourage them. Sometimes people will ask us to pray for them. Once a girl stoppedus and asked us to pray for her. We did and we prayed for her during the week. Thefollowing week we saw her again and she told us that she had derived comfort fromour prayers. We were able to refer her to the hotline for additional assistance. “Jesus was the first ever street pastor. He went to the tax collectors and theprostitutes. It’s all about meeting needs, not just banging on all the time about hell anddamnation.” Street pastors have sometimes been mistaken for police informants. “That wasmainly when we first started going out,” said David. “They were wary of the uniformand whenever we spoke to people, it’s like they’d look at the tag on our jackets andsay: ‘street patrol…that’s not how you spell patrol.’ Laughing, David scrunched uphis eyes and mimicked someone peering at a street pastor’s coat tag. “But it got betteronce they got used to seeing us out there.” Yvonne Richards agreed. “People were a bit sceptical when they saw us the firstweek. Then they saw us again the second week and by the third week they began toget a bit more comfortable seeing us out there. They would ask us what we’re doingand once they knew, they’d say that more of us were needed. It’s about buildingrelationships and trust; about building a bridge between church goers and non churchgoers.” Yvonne, one of four women graduating from the programme, said she too wasconcerned about what was happening in local communities and wanted to help. “I’m never on the street late at night,” she said, “so I would never get to meetmany of the people who need our help since I don’t see them on the street during theday. That’s why I decided to become a street pastor. It’s been eye opening to see howthe other half live.” Jackie and Angella Lawrence, two sisters who also enlisted to become streetpastors, hope to graduate later this year. “We’re here to support those graduating tonight,” Angella said. “It will be ourturn soon and I am looking forward to that.” Angella is happy with the response they are receiving on the streets. “We giveout leaflets with our hotline number and other useful social service numbers on it.Once a girl stopped me and asked me, ‘do you have any of the leaflets with thenumbers on it?’ It made me feel like we are doing something worthwhile and like weare in fact making a difference.” “Being at this graduation makes me feel confident,” added Jackie. “It gives me agood feeling about all that is happening with street pastors.” Many other stories abound of the work of the street pastors in different cities inthe UK. One night in Hackney, in London, a group of six street pastors were nearbywhen a group of some 200 young people poured out of a nightclub. An altercationwas brewing; it seemed to be about a girl. The female street pastor, who was leadingthe team, intervened before the fight broke out. Getting right in the middle of the fray,she said, “There’s no fighting gonna take place here tonight!” For half an hour, theynegotiated with the swearing factions, picking out the ringleaders and concentratingon them as trained to do. But before it ended, a car arrived on the scene with four menarmed with guns who had come to join in. The female leader of the street pastors wentover to them and said, “You’re big men. What are you doing? Get out of this place!You should be ashamed of yourselves!” The men drove off and the street pastorsmanaged to eventually diffuse the situation completely. Before leaving the scene, oneof the young men approached her and said, “Thank you mommy street pastor.”
Another incident is reported in Brixton where a group of women were involvedin an altercation and about to fight. They were loudly threatening each other andswearing. A street pastor approached and said, “Now, now, ladies, there’s going to beno fighting.” The women paid no attention. Suddenly, she raised her voice andshouted, “In the name of Jesus…” Everyone froze. The street pastor was then able tolead the ringleader away and another major incident was averted. In Peckham, too, Rev. Les Issacs himself, the founder of the street pastorsministry in London, was involved in diffusing a situation between a group of abouttwenty black youths and two Chinese youths over the sale of a faulty DVD. Bottleswere thrown. One of the Chinese youths had sustained injuries and Rev. Issacs and hiscolleague spent time pacifying both groups: Rev. Issacs speaking to the black youths;his colleague, who happened to be Chinese, speaking in Cantonese to the Chineseyouths. Before long, another group of Chinese men arrived on the scene, in a car, withmetal bars to join in. At the sight of them, the black youths fled and Rev. Issacs andhis colleague spent some more time trying to pacify the new arrivals. Their presencewas even more instrumental when shortly afterwards a black youth, unrelated to theincident, got off a bus and the Chinese men mistook him for one of the group oftwenty, only agreeing to let him be at Rev. Issacs’ insistence that he was not one ofthem. Police statistics for Peckham and Camberwell, two notorious hotspot areas, haveshown a dramatic reduction in violent crimes since street pastors started working inthe areas. A comparison of the figures for 2003/04 and 2004/05 between October andJanuary, shows between 88% and 100% reduction in violent crimes on a weekly basisin Peckham and between 32% and 90% reduction in Camberwell. The Camberwellpolice called Janice Gittens, Strategic Planner for street pastors at Ascension Trust,saying they had to check their figures three times. But the evidence was correct. Theirpresence on the streets had made a tangible difference. “Besides all of these incidents, people are also coming to Christ,” Rev. Issacsreports. “Countless people have emailed or telephoned or come up to us at meetingsand said ‘thanks for what you and your team have done for me. I am now saved andattending church and serving the Lord.’” Rev. Issacs, Director of Ascension Trust, a mission organization based inLondon, and the man responsible for pioneering the street pastors ministry in Londonin 2003, delivered the main address at Aston’s graduation ceremony. “We have missed opportunities to be relevant,” Rev. Issacs told those gathered.“People know what the Church is against rather than what we are for. There is a needfor us to stand up and acknowledge that yes, we’re Christians; yes, we love peopleand yes, we’re human. It’s been a challenge just for the Church just to let peopleknow that we’re human—more than just happy clappers and tambourine people—people who are relevant to the needs out there.” Rev. Issacs acknowledged that even though not everyone they helped wouldcome to faith, they still had a responsibility to love and to care for them. “We need toremember,” he said, “that but for the grace of God, there go I and as Jesus said, theleast you do to these, you have done to me.” As enthusiastic about missions as the graduates, Rev. Issacs said, “We can’tafford just to have Sunday service for two hours. We have to go beyond that.Wouldn’t it be wonderful for a thousand people to be on the streets on any one nightjust bringing hope to those in need?” The street pastors have been working in cooperation with many social serviceand other charity organizations. Karen Fyffe, of Barnardos, a charity that works to
support vulnerable children and young people, was present at the ceremony to endorsethe initiative. Karen has worked closely with the graduates, providing support andassistance during their training. “This ministry is like an embryo that will grow into a child,” she told them. “Butdon’t let it overwhelm you. Just let God continue to use you and take you to the nextlevel.” Endorsement for the overall street pastors programme in the UK has come fromseveral sources since it was launched 2 years ago in London. Supt. Neil Wain of theGreater Manchester Police, in a BBC news interview, said he was keen on the workthe street pastors were doing in Manchester and acknowledged that gang members dohave a certain respect for the Church. The police in several cities across the UK wherestreet pastors operate work in cooperation with them and likewise appreciate the workthey are doing. Last year, leader of the UK’s Conservative Party, the Rt. Hon. Michael Howard,enthralled by reports of the street pastors’ work in London, went out one night withRev. Issacs and one of the teams to see for himself what they were doing. “I was very impressed by the work of the street pastors,” he had said, “and wishthem well in turning people away from crime.” Drivers customarily show their support, the street pastors say, by tooting theirhorns and giving the thumbs up. Regulars who interact with the pastors, like Steve, asecurity guard at a London nightclub, welcome their presence. Steve refers to Rev.Issacs as my pastor. Major media houses have picked up on the story and a slew ofpress articles and television reports and features have been produced. Major mentionshave included the BBC, an article in a prominent glossy monthly, New Woman, and aslot in the 2005 edition of Local Heroes, a government sponsored publication thatgives recognition to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to localcommunities. Even a drunkard the street pastors met one night mustered up enoughsobriety to give his own brand of endorsement. He is reported to have said, “It’s aboutf-ing time the Church got out here. What took you so f-ing long?” But where did it all really begin? With Rev. Issacs who pioneered the work andwas behind the first street pastors who started in London in 2003? Or perhaps it reallystarted in Jamaica where, in 2001, Rev. Issacs on a visit with Pastor Bruce Fletcher ofChristian Life Fellowship in Kingston and Pastor Bobby Wilmot of CovenantCommunity Church, also in Kingston, first noticed that these men had a good rapportwith gang members sitting on street corners. Perhaps it started with the white middleclass pensioners in Stockwell, a group of old ladies who heard about the street pastorswhen they were featured on Songs of Praise and subsequently telephoned Rev. Issacs’office to say they had been praying for something like this for some time. Or perhapsit goes even further back to the prayers of Rev. Issacs’ mother, who prayedceaselessly for her angry teenager who, in the face of racism, had embracedRastafarianism and rejected the blue eyed, blonde haired god whose henchmen werethe perpetrators of injustice and hatred towards the black race. One may not be able to pin it down precisely. But one thing is clear—the seedswere sown. After meeting with an African Christian man, who shared truths with himthat he would have been unable to hear from a white Christian on account of racistexperiences and hurts, Les gave his life to Christ at the age of 18. He was concernedabout missions from early on and became known as an ‘on-fire’ young man in churchcircles. He eventually pastured a church for a number of years and finally startedAscension Trust to concentrate on missions work to involve many churches.
In 2001, after witnessing the rapport that Pastors Bruce Fletcher and BobbyWilmot in Jamaica had with young men on the streets of Kingston, he took theinspiration back to the UK. From there, it germinated into a road show that toured theUK’s major cities, holding discussions in each location to try to get to grips with thecrime and violence problems being witnessed. It was clear that no one had theanswers. But after looking at the problems and analysing where and when killingswere happening, it became evident that what was needed was some solution for whatwas happening at nightclubs and parties and on the streets late at nights. The streetpastors initiative was birthed directly out of this analysis. And it was officiallylaunched on 20th January, 2003 at Brixton Baptist Church, with the first ever streetpastors appearing on the streets of Lambeth and Hackney in April of that year andofficially becoming the first UK graduates in September of the same year. The ministry is poised for expansion into Southend, where 30 applicants areready to start training; Waltham Forest; Leeds; Leicester, Chelmsford. And theinternational arena is on the cards too: from as far as Bolivia, churches have beenphoning to say they want to have street pastors there too. The Caribbean and Africaare also on the cards. And Jamaica, where Rev. Issacs first received the inspiration,has since come to the UK to witness the mobilization of an idea which was loosely ineffect in its own backyard and has taken the observations back to develop them there.If Rev. Issacs has his way, street pastors could become a common fixture on thestreets of major cities all over the world. So, if you have your sights set on the pastorate and have been thinking ofputting yourself forward for consideration, broach it with your local pastor—you cannever tell, you could very well find yourself out on the street!To contact the street pastors ministry in the UK, telephone Ascension Trust: 0207 7719770Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgWebsite address: www.streetpastors.org.uk