02 December 2013
Celebrating 10 years of Street Pastors
Photographs by The Ascension Trust
This weekend 1,200 guests gathered at Southwark Cathedral to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Ascension Trust, along with the 10th anniversary of Street Pastors, one of their best known initiatives. Guests included the Mayor of Southwark, the High Commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda, David Burrowes MP, local church leaders and Street Pastors from across the UK.
Street Pastors has trained 11,000 adult volunteers to engage with people on the streets through dialogue, listening and caring actions. There are more than 280 Street Pastor teams across the UK, each consisting of at least three groups of four volunteers. Each volunteer goes out a minimum of once a month, usually on a Friday or Saturday night from 10pm to around 4am. Street Pastors is an international organisation, with teams not only in the UK but across the world, including Trinidad and Tobago, the US and, this year, Nigeria.
Street Pastor teams bring together Christians from different denominations, all concerned about the safety and wellbeing of people in their community and willing to regularly give up a night's sleep to be there for people. The Bishop of Southwark, the Right Rev Christopher Chessun, noted in his keynote address that Street Pastors was a special example of unity across traditional divides, with Christians working together for a common purpose. He said that Street Pastors was also an example of "the energy of black independent churches enthusing traditional denominations, with God's grace outpoured and crossing boundaries".
Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: "I love the thought that if people ask 'where is the UK Church on a Friday and Saturday night?' the answer comes back: 'They are out on the streets in their thousands, until the early hours of the morning, handing out water and flip flops, getting people safely onto transport home and working alongside the police to see peace on our streets'. Street Pastors is the business of heaven and I cheer it on."
Many have noticed the remarkable impact of Street Pastors' efforts, including significant reductions in crime rates and anti-social behaviour. Commander Simon Letchford of the Metropolitan Police thanked Street Pastors during the service for making a significant difference to safety on the streets. David Burrowes MP said that Street Pastors provide a real, relevant answer to the question 'who is my neighbour?', offering hope and unconditional love to people in the same way that Jesus did.
Rev Les Isaac founded Street Pastors in Brixton in 2003. He said of the anniversary celebrations:
"I want people to know that the mission of Ascension Trust is about longevity and we are here to serve humanity, be relevant to the community and to equip people to display the true meaning of the Gospel. We also want to remind members of the community that there are Christians who care and who are trying to bring hope to those most in need."
During his talk Les recognised the contributions of the many individuals who God had used to make Street Pastors a reality, and said "together we are salting and lighting our wonderful nation".
The service included the graduation of newly-trained Street, School and College Pastors, including Carol Losinksi from the Lewisham Street Pastors team in south-east London. She told us what made her sign up: "We were asked at church if anyone would like to be a Street Pastor for Lewisham People's Day, so I did the course and volunteered there two-years running. I enjoyed it so much I felt that God was calling me to be a Street Pastor."
Sharing about her first night volunteering on the streets, Carol said: "We met a girl who was very drunk, so we sat with her and then made arrangements to put her on a bus and have a friend meet her at the other end. When she stood up she held onto my arm and as we walked to the bus stop she asked me why I was doing this. I said 'if you were my daughter I would like to know you were being looked after'. I got home at 5am that morning and went to bed feeling content and happy that I had helped someone."
Anne Scarfe, an 86-year-old Street Pastor and recent winner of a Pride of Britain Award, also attended the service. She said: "Street Pastors are special people, as they take the Church out of the building on to the street."
Street Pastors is just one of the 300 individual charities that come under The Ascension Trust's umbrella. Others include Gift My Time, encouraging people to volunteer and bless their communities, and weapon exchange programme Word for Weapons. Prayer Pastors co-ordinates Christians to pray for the Street Pastor team in their area, and another of their initiatives, School Pastors, has seen Christians listening, caring for and supporting young people in schools since 2011. Through all they do The Ascension Trust aims to train individuals and churches to interact in our society in a relevant, informed and pastoral way.