Describe an urban ‘Street Pastor’ with his or her distinctive blue jacket and you may well bring to mind a God-bothering New-York-style Guardian Angel, or some fresh development in the Jesus Army.
However, Pastor Les Isaac, took time out from his crusade for peace to explain to Londonist that his multi-denominational Street Pastors are nothing like either.
"We come as peaceful people to try and maintain peace," he said, adding that, "if your approach is to evangelise then I think you are missing the point. We are doing this because our religion compels us to reach out to humanity, not because we want converts. If people are interested in our motives then we are happy to discuss them, but first and foremost we are here to help build communities; to talk to people and to help people"
Started in a small backstreet in Brixton in 2003, the Street Pastor initiative is now nationwide, and there are representatives in over half of the London boroughs. On any Friday or Saturday more than a hundred Pastors walk the streets talking to the kids and trying to defuse difficult situations.
And don’t think they are all burly six footers like Pastor Les. He jokes: "We have a lot of little women on the street, but I tell you, if there is trouble, they are the ones I would hide behind".
The skills on the street are largely down to the intensive training that, in the absence of government funding, volunteers pay £300 for.
Pastor Les has just announced new projects in north Surrey, but it’s his School Pastor scheme that excites us most. He hopes this will help with the ‘danger time’ between 3pm and 6pm.
Expect to see Pastors soon in schools, on school buses and helping in after-hours clubs. Don’t, however, expect to see instant results. Les says "We have to be realistic. These things take time, maybe a lot of time. To rebuild a sense of community and individual responsibility will take decades."
Find out more.
By Russ Coffey