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Whitstable pastors take to beach life

07 September 2012

Ministering in sandy pastures: Whitstable's team of Street Pastors

Ministering in sandy pastures: Whitstable's team of Street Pastors

WHITSTABLE is, by the Revd Helen Letley's admission, a "safe" place. When the 20 Street Pastors she helps to manage undertake their patrols, it is "not about law-enforcement" but offering a "ministry of presence".

It is now nine years since the Revd Les Isaac OBE, director of the Ascension Trust, launched Street Pastors as a response to gun and knife crime in Britain's urban areas. There are now about 10,000 trained volunteers in 250 teams around the United Kingdom, patrolling the streets, getting to know their com­munity, and providing practical support - from finding someone a taxi home, to clearing broken glass, and administering first aid.

The Whitstable team, which patrols from 7 p.m. to midnight, was com­missioned in July after members of Tankerton Evangelical Church, in conversation with the police, identi­fied a particular need in the beach areas.

"One thing that does happen, particularly in the evening and summer, is that young peope tend to congregate on the beaches," Mrs Letley, the minister at St John's Methodist Church, said. "Nobody wants them to not have a good time, but what was happening was some incidence of anti-social behaviour, including people of all ages drinking on the beach."

Mrs Letley said that the initiative had enabled the churches in the town - all 14 are involved - to show people that they could work together to do something "positive, pur­poseful, and practical".

"We do very basic things like pick up glass bottles which are a common form of weapon," she said. "We have helped with a number of domestic incidents, arguing in the street. One young woman in a pub was separated from her friends and didn't have money for the train home, and we managed to reunite her with her friends. There is a sense of having a presence around and being a friend."

Pastors receive 12 days of training, which includes sea safety. Mrs Letley said that the project was "offering something practical, not to convert people", but that it was "grounded in prayer" and that "the door is not shut" on conversations about faith with the community. The Ascension Trust states that the role of a Street Pastor is "one of listening, caring and helping - working in an uncon­ditional way".

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