Tag Archives: christian

We Need To Get Out More!

Break Out!

Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go – Joshua 1:9

Talking to a bright, shiny new ordinand the other day*, I listened as he told me all the wonderful things he’d been up to over the summer break. He’d spent a couple of weeks overseas working with Youth for Christ…. He’d visited his prospective parish and been welcomed during the Sunday services…He’d spent a long weekend at Greenbelt taking part in many worship events and engaging with interesting discussion sessions …. he’d met regularly with his ‘cell’ group and his only regret was that he hadn’t been able to organise a trip to Taizé. Blimey I thought, you’ve managed to pack a lot into your ‘leisure’ time, but I wonder how much time he’d spent just being ‘ordinary’

“If you spend too long in prison you can become institutionalised, and it can be difficult to make that leap of faith over the wall to freedom. This applies to being caught up in church culture too”  Milton Jones ’10 Second Sermons’

Now this wasn’t meant to be a criticism, because dedicating your life to your faith is a noble and sacred thing, but our ministerial and social skills also need to be honed in the ‘real world’ as well. As Christians we can spend a lot of our time being reluctant and occasionally downright scared to talk about our faith with our ‘non-Christian’ friends and acquaintances for fear of being thought obsessive, fanatical and maybe even a little bit weird. We worry that we’ll suddenly become a pariah in the workplace or family.

Greenbelt 2013

Greenbelt 2013

So when opportunities come up to join together with like-minded people, we often jump at the chance to spend more and more time in their company. These are the type of people who will understand us, to whom we feel we can speak openly, whom we are sure will make us feel good.

Of course it’s vital that we do get together to learn and equip ourselves.  It’s great to build each other up by sharing knowledge and wisdom, as it helps us become more able to share that with others; people who may be unaware of what makes us tick or who may be beginning to search for meaning in their lives… or asking what is it all about. In addition we also need to engage more with those who appear to have no intention of listening to our ‘news’ however good we present it. We even need to be prepared to engage with outright hostility

The great thing is that all these engagements can often be achieved without the need for words or at least very few words. One of the turning points in my faith journey was the conscious decision to speak openly about my faith to whoever asked. Note the ‘asked’ not ‘I’ll slip the Jesus word in whether it’s appropriate or not’. Not simply to pontificate on the state of their souls,  but  to say that actually  last Sunday I was in church; to talk about the perceived  ‘absurd’  politics of church organisations; to let people know the underlying reasons why I think what I do

‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words’ St Francis of Assisi

I’m pretty certain that I’ve never ‘converted’ anybody in my whole life…in fact I wouldn’t want to claim that at all. What I do hope I’ve done along the way is spoken honestly, acted compassionately and served humbly to enable others to catch a glimpse of why I believe what I believe and maybe then explore it for themselves – if not immediately then at some point in their lives.

Spending a lot of time practicing can make us an ‘expert’ in our subject, but it can also make us very one-dimensional. Of course I can choose to participate in lots of extra-curricular activities like roaring from the terraces of Twickenham, rocking at a Coldplay concert or simply going out for meals with ex-work colleagues. However, the simplest thing is to engage in ordinary conversation with whomever I happen to meet – about the weather; what they’re up to at the moment; what’s important to them right now. This exchange of information gives me an insight into other people’s lives and them an insight into mine

As part of bringing about God’s kingdom our task is to come alongside people – that is ALL people – not just that lovely group of fellow Christians who make us feel warm and fuzzy – but the ones who makes us feel prickly and uncomfortable too. Sometimes we just need to get out more!

*To my fellow trainees at Cuddesdon – he is not one of you!

Where is God on the Streets?

God on the Streets

God on the Streets

As part of your preparations for Ordination training, you are advised to lay some things aside – at least for the duration of your training – and it’s one of the things that I am finding it difficult to decide about. Having spent the last couple of years actively increasing my ministry – I now have to review everything and push to one side the feeling of guilt that some things will have to be relinquished. There is one thing however, that I hope very much to continue with.

As a firm believer that God is not just found in Sunday worship but is found wherever Christians reach out into their communities, my work with the Street Pastors has proved this time and time again. There are also sound theological reasons for doing it as well.

As part of my BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel) I was asked to prepare a short reflection and I share it with you now

Where is God on the Streets?

In 2012, Paul Rowlinson, a Street Pastor in Bangor, spoke about the work he and his colleagues were doing. He commented that “Street Pastor’s doesn’t have any particular theological or social standpoint. We are there to offer pastoral care and practical help and to listen to people. We are not out there to preach or anything like that.” As a Southampton Street Pastor, I would generally agree with this overview. However, I would argue that many facets of theological thinking are demonstrated in abundance within the work of Street Pastors.

At its heart, the work is both pastoral and practical.  The people that a Street Pastor meets on patrol are usually at their most vulnerable. The homeless man sitting in a shop doorway, who for one reason or another didn’t get an overnight hostel place, needs a drink of hot chocolate (and maybe a biscuit for his dog) before making his way to the multi-storey car park to find a hidden corner in which he can feel safer than sleeping in the open. The nightclub reveller who, having been thrown out of the establishment which earlier sold her bargain 50p vodka shots, wending her unsteady way barefooted on the glass littered and vomit splattered pavements, needs a pair of flip-flops. The young man slumped down on the frozen floor, and who proceeds to empty the contents of his stomach, not quite over my shoes, needs a space blanket and his face wiped.

Practical theology in practice? Street Pastors see what is going on, know why this is, what ought to be happening and respond to it. As they become better known in the community they gain credibility. People know that the Church is there for them in a practical yet unconditional way. As MP David Burrowes put it Street Pastors is about Christians rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in practically responding to the problems of crime and safety.” God becomes known in our actions; a modern day application of the Good Samaritan parable.

But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:25-37)

Practical theology answers the how, but what about the why? We should remember that people who become Street Pastors are not there as government employed social workers. They are Christians willing to give their time as part of their mission,  or Missio Dei – ‘sending of God’  and instituted by Jesus, first to his disciples (Matthew 10:1) then to a larger group (Luke 10:1-4, 9) This type of work puts into practice many strands of Mission theology including sociology, communication  and ecumenics.

Coats, caps and rucksacks declaring in ‘Hi Vis’ letters the fact that we are ‘pastors’ – not police – not medics –  prompts the inevitable questions. What is a pastor? Why would you do this? This is our chance to ‘evangelise’ in the gentlest of terms. “We’re from local churches and we’re here to help people; to keep you safe. We do it because we believe we’re called to do it”. Sometimes the discussions go deeper and give people opportunities to explore their own theological wonderings and experiences.  It’s then that the Holy Spirit seems to appear, in these five minute ‘chats’.

Ecumenically, Street Pastors have to be willing to work with fellow Christians in collaborative ways, helping to develop trust, to acknowledge and value difference and to bring about the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church’

Perhaps the most poignant statement I’ve heard was from a slightly tipsy young woman, who declared, “You must hate us!” Her own self-appraisal of society’s apparent need to indulge in these sorts of behaviours and assumption that we would judge people because of that,  simply confirmed the need for our pastoral role and for a wider engagement by the Church in clarifying and spreading its message in this way

Phoning back as each encounter arises, develops and concludes enables the Prayer Pastors to pray ‘into’ the situation, underlining the fact that we are not dependent on our own strengths and skills but need the intercession of Christ and the Grace of God.

What we do as Street Pastors is not dependent on whether it earns us ‘brownie points’ towards eternal rewards; the theology of Grace is that it cannot be earned but is given because God desires us to have it. We often, therefore, have to almost make an unconscious decision to put aside the reason why we are doing what we do so that we can honestly answer,

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  (Matthew 25:37-39)

Where is God on the streets? He’s wherever he sends Street Pastors!

References:

http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2012/08/18/street-pastors-helping-bring-peace-to-streets-of-bangor-every-friday-night-55578-31646776/

http://www.streetpastors.co.uk/

Charles Van Engen sums this up in his definition of Mission ‘Mission is the people of God intentionally crossing barriers from church to non-church, faith to non-faith, to proclaim by word and deed the coming of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ’ (1996). Mission on the Way; Issues in Mission Theology