NEWS :: What are Street Pastors?
According to their website, Street Pastors are "trained volunteers from local churches who care about their community.
They patrol in teams of men and women, usually from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. on a Friday and Saturday night, to care for, listen to and help people who are out on the streets.
A Street Pastor is someone who is…
- a Christian and is part of a local church;
- concerned for society and their local community;
- willing to engage with people, whatever their perspective on life and wherever they hang out;
- happy to work in a team and in collaboration with other agencies and projects, both statutory and voluntary."
We wanted to know what this actually looks like, so we joined the Street Pastors on a Friday night.
Our evening starts by heading to the Queen's Hall on King Street (the Methodist mission in town) shortly before 10pm. We knock at the door and are let in by a woman in a smart blue uniform. Sheila is the minister at the Queens Hall and was a Street Pastor before she came to Wigan. She offers a warm welcome and introduces us to tonight's team.
Steve runs Wigan's Street Pastors, he'll be staying in the Queens Hall praying while we're out on the Streets. The role of Prayer Pastor is a vital support to what happens outside.
Sheila is the team leader tonight, and is joined by Lisa, Rob and Sam. Each are wearing a smart blue uniform, and went through Street Pastor training before starting - a few weeks going through set material and one session provided by Ascension Trust - the organisation behind Street Pastors. People and organisations who support Street Pastors cover all the costs involved.
The team is close, it's obvious from the way they chat beforehand that a year of doing this has formed some tight bonds. Before we head out Sheila reads the parable of the Good Samaritan and talks about mercy. We pray then head out, with tonight's observers dressed in a high-vis jacket to distinguish them from the Street Pastors.
We wave goodbye to Steve and step out into the cold and dark.
What happens on patrol
The role of the Street Pastor is difficult to describe but simple - to be a positive presence on the streets of Wigan and to be a help to those who need it. This involves walking around the streets of central Wigan and chatting to people, putting bottles and glasses in the bin (including sweeping it up where necessary), offering help to those who need it and calling for help when it's more than Street Pastors can provide.
Our evening started with a stroll from the Queens Hall into town, passing Casino de Cuba, John Bull Chop House and Gallimore's. We were invited in for a hot drink at Gallimore's, its owner Howard is a supporter, as are many of the businesses which open late at night. We had a good chat with Howard, and a couple who were dining there who were interested in what we do and understood the need from personal experience.
On leaving Gallimore's we head down King Street, Wigan's main drinking area. It's cold and windy out so there aren't many people around. Most of the door staff greet us - they're used to seeing us out and will call on us when they see a need. We head down a dark pathway leading from King Street to Wigan North Western railway station, stopping to sweep up broken glass on the way. Street Pastors carry a sweeping brush and plastic bags for clearing up glass and will always clear up any bits big enough to pose a danger.
At the station we chat with Transport Police and station staff while we watch the last train depart. Occasionally someone gets stuck in Wigan, and the Street Pastors are there to stay with people while they find a way home or somewhere to stay.
As we walk back into town we spot a woman in bare feet. This is a common sight as some people go out in high heels and take them off as the evening progresses. We offer a free pair of flip flops and help her on with them, and are told that "not all heroes wear capes". It's great to see recognition of the good we're doing and that appreciation is universal among the people we chat to - most people know what the Street Pastors are doing as they've seen them in Wigan, Manchester or another local town and know that Street Pastors are volunteers, giving up their own time to look out for them.
As we continue to walk round a small area of Wigan it's clear that even on a quiet night Street Pastors are needed and appreciated by everybody - police, staff and people on a night out. It's clear that Wigan's small team of Street Pastors love what they do, and it's easy to see why. Despite the late night and cold weather being out on the streets is not only enjoyable but rewarding. No two nights are quite the same, and carrying the presence of God into Wigan's nightlife is a worthy pursuit.
We need more Street Pastors and Prayer Pastors. Could you do it?
Ideally Street Pastors would be out every Friday and Saturday night, with each Street Pastor going out once per month. It's not a heavy burden, it's certainly rewarding and it builds bridges with the Church and Wigan's nightlife.
If you're interested you're welcome to go out as on observer for an evening (you're not obliged to stay out all night), please get in touch with Steve A'Hearne. You can find his details on the Wigan Street Pastors web page.