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About in the small hours, doing good

02 January 2015

Pat Ashworth reads the encouraging story of the Street Pastors' volunteer ministry


Faith on the Streets: Christians in action through the Street Pastors movement
Les Isaac and Rosalind Davies
Hodder & Stoughton £13.99
Church Times Bookshop £12.60 (Use code CT870 )

STREET PASTORS have been a fixture on Britain's night-time high streets since the first team went out in Brixton in 2003. In the then climate of escalating gun and gang-related crime, this Christian initiative from Ascension Trust was to be about "small, simple, and genuine interventions in the lives of the people around us".

In messy and ugly situations, that might mean restoring dignity to a young girl lying on the ground by making sure she is properly covered up and decent, or cleaning blood or vomit from someone's face or hair. As accounts here testify, the 11,000 trained volunteers have earned the respect not only of the thousands who encounter them but also of the police and the local authorities.

And what makes this book so very fresh and intelligent is that it doesn't just laud the work or report the changed lives that can result from an organisation underpinned by prayer. It seriously explores the part that Christian-led volunteers can play in the infrastructure of public life, and how the "urban trinity" of Church, police, and local government working together can bring about change.

Teams have in many places become part of the integrated response to crime and antisocial behaviour. "Street Pastors has been instrumental in the recognition that the battle against crime will not be won by law enforcement on its own, a principle that has caused a remarkable sea-change in policing in the UK," suggest the co-authors, Les Isaac and Rosalind Davies. Isaac, the founder, whose family were the first black people on a Camden housing estate, was a Rastafarian, and describes himself as "battle-hardened from the age of 13".

His faith journey is part of the story. But what he passionately wants to convey is all that, in practically demonstrating the gospel of Jesus, Street Pastors has done for the reputation of Christianity in the UK. In this and in the work of other Christian-led charities such as foodbanks, he sees the resurgence of the missional message of social transformation, a "reinvigorated identity" for the Church which also stems from the high street "face" of open door and drop-in activities.

The impact, he concludes, has not been just on local communities but on the way society sees voluntary work. Street Pastors are seen as "people of faith who won't point a finger": plenty of wisdom there, I'd say, for the Church to apply.

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