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30 April 2013

Pastoring in the classroom

Pastoring in the classroom

First there were Street Pastors; and then there were School Pastors

And just like Street Pastors, School Pastors are a great reflection of the Church making a difference in its communities – but this time it's in the playground, the classroom and the assembly hall rather than outside nightclubs giving a helping hand to revellers. The need is no greater or lesser in either.

School Pastors – volunteers from local churches – help to care for and support the school community by promoting safety and endeavouring to cut down on anti-social behaviour. They listen, care for and come alongside young people, encouraging them to be good citizens.

Martin Pointing, national School Pastor co-ordinator, said that limiting anti-social behaviour is an important part of what the School Pastors do. "The police have informed us that when school is finished at the end of the day, the incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour increase.  

“It is so good to be a visible presence and to be able to listen to young people as they begin their journeys home, they are reassured by our presence, and so are the shopkeepers and other members of our community.”

School Pastors was started in February 2011 by The Ascension Trust – the same charity that started Street Pastors. Founder Les Isaac was passionate about the Church being a catalyst for social action and it is this belief that underpins the ethos of both School Pastors and Street Pastors.

Eighteen areas across the country, including Aberdeen, Newcastle, Ilfracombe, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, currently have School Pastor teams working in secondary schools and further education colleges in partnership with local authorities.

Rebecca Kelly is the co-ordinator on the Isle of Wight. She told idea that it is through joint working with the police, local authority, schools and churches that the initiative is able to be successful. The School Pastors partner with a local secondary school – Medina College which has 1,550 students aged between 11 and 19.

“The way we have been accepted has been one of the highlights for me,” Rebecca says.

“Street Pastors is a very well-respected and professional charitable organisation. I do feel that this paved the way for School Pastors to be able to work with local authorities.”

Contrary to what might be thought, it is not working with local authorities that presents the biggest challenge for School Pastors. Rebecca says it is earning the trust of the pupils which is the most difficult, but yet most rewarding part of the job.

“Like with any organisation working with young people, it’s about the building up of trust and relationship. We have to make clear to them that we're not there to police them. We're not that authority figure. We're actually there to get alongside them. Gradually we are able to build trust and rapport and they understand that we are there for them.

"We are unashamedly Christian and we say so when we lead assemblies, but we don't force our faith on them. But we are really a practical demonstration of God's love and we're not there to evangelise."

For Rebecca, who has long had a passion for working with young people, being a School Pastor is an important part of her Christian witness. "It's about meeting people where they are and offering them support. It's being able to demonstrate our values and beliefs as Christians in a very practical way.

School Pastors also work closely with pupils who are experiencing difficulty in an area of school life. They build relationship with and develop communication with those who might be disruptive in class, those regularly excluded from class, and those who might be finding it hard to take part in and engage in classroom learning.

Rebecca added: "In this way we are fulfilling God's mission to love, heal and care for the world and those that are within it. I feel that we are being Jesus's eyes, feet and hands in the world. We're bringing the kingdom of God here on earth, into these schools, by loving these young people."

The beauty of the School Pastors model is that it can be repeated in any area of the country. Martin has been encouraged by the number of calls he has received from people interested in setting up a new project where they are.

"The way each new project that has started has been welcomed by the school communities they represent and the way each project has evolved into working in varying partnerships with the school has been one of the highlights," Martin says.

"Each project is able to have its own distinct flavour."

But there are many schools in many areas of the country that would benefit from having Christians who care about their young people come in, walk alongside them and build relationship with them.

"The cry I hear from young people is that they want to be listened to," Martin adds. "They want adults to give them time. Christian people have proved themselves to be consistent at this and the young people trust them and speak to them. What an opportunity.

"It is so good to see the Church on the streets. It is an opportunity to be God's visible presence on the streets and not locked away in our church buildings as has often been the criticism in the past."

If you'd like to find out more about becoming a school pastor or setting up a School Pastor programme in your area, visit their website. You can also email Martin Pointing on info@schoolpastors.com. schoolpastors.org.uk

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