Street pastors joined by Archbishop
Published on: 05 Oct 2014
MARK Rich grew up in Kingswood, has spent plenty of time in the High Street over the years, and knows many people in the area. But last month, he saw someone he’d never seen before – the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Justin Welby had asked to come out to see the work of the Kingswood street pastors, which is co-ordinated by Mark, a member of Christ Church Downend. Teams of volunteers go out on patrol in the hours either side of midnight to support people participating in “the night-time economy”.
They hand out bottles of water to those who might have had a drink too many and help people order taxis to get home. The team also distribute flip-flops to young women who can no longer cope with their high heels and offer foil blankets to those who are feeling cold.
“Sometimes at 4am it looks like the end of a marathon,” said the Rev Andy Mason, chairman of Kingswood Street Pastors.
Andy brought the idea to the area, having started a similar scheme in his previous parish in Salisbury.
“I saw people crying in doorways and realised there was a need,” he said. “Churches were in darkness and the cathedral was locked. It looked as though church was irrelevant to the young generation and I believe passionately that is not true.”
Mark has been visiting churches around east Bristol to recruit more street pastors.
“Our vision is to have 50, then we could have teams out every Friday and Saturday night. At the moment we go out once a fortnight,” he said.
The street pastors work with the police, licensees and the local authority and the latest figures show that crime levels have dropped since they started their patrols.
“We are making Kingswood a safer place,” said Mark. “We are very well received. People appreciate what we are doing. Even if they don’t share the same religious beliefs, they will still respect the fact that we are standing up for what we believe in.
“It is the church in action on the streets. It is not about preaching on street corners, although it is surprising how many people engage in dialogue with us.”
The Rev Jo Vickery, of Christ Church, who also attended as an observer on the night of the Archbishop’s visit, said: “It is such a supportive, loving, sensitive thing that they are doing and it really appreciated by the people who are out at that time.”
The Archbishop came to Kingswood as part of a two-day visit to the Bristol diocese, during which he completed 17 different engagements including opening a new church centre in Stoke Gifford and baptising people in the open air at Malmesbury Abbey.
He said of his experiences: “I saw God at work, people learning to love and follow Jesus Christ, and loving their communities.”