BY Ryan McDougall | April 12 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

8 street-pastors

Midnight ministry: on the streets with the Christian volunteers helping Glasgow’s vulnerable

Ryan McDougall joins the ranks of a dedicated band of volunteers from a variety of denominations who aim to offer help to all who find themselves in need during the night in Glasgow City Centre.

By night, Glasgow is a different city. During the day, shoppers, workers and commuters weave through the streets as they shop or grab a bite to eat, entertained by a variety of lively buskers.

At night, however, the shoppers are replaced with drunken revellers and the office workers by a troubled and often abandoned people who live on the streets.

Amid this dark side to Glasgow’s nightlife, some people find themselves incoherently drunk or separated from their friends, and the city’s already homeless community are even more vulnerable, especially during the cold winter months.

 

Safe retreat

A haven among the madness that is a night out in Glasgow can, however, be found on Buchanan Street. Here at St George’s Tron Church are found Christian group the Glasgow Street Pastors.

The Street Pastors, a project of The Ascension Trust, are dedicated to helping anyone in need on Friday and Saturday nights up until 4am.

They provide hats, scarves and gloves to the city’s homeless men and women who are at risk from the cold, and provide warm clothes for the city’s under-dressed revellers.

The volunteers help those on a night out to find their friends, get a taxi home, and even assist in diffusing situations that could potentially become a police or ambulance matter if ignored.

Outside the church, the smell of kebabs, perfume and aftershave scented the cold air as I waited to be welcomed in by Stuart Crawford, Glasgow Street Pastors’ coordinator.

 

Preparation

We met with a handshake and a warm introduction and headed downstairs where the rest of the team sat in conversation, preparing themselves for the night ahead.

Team leader Andy Sharp welcomed everyone and split volunteers into groups of threes and fours, assigning them a district of the city to roam in order to cover as much ground as possible.

The groups prayed for the wellbeing of their teammates, for those who they would meet in need of help throughout the night, and for myself—who sat nervous yet excited to give their work some press coverage.

 

Diversity

Andy explained that the individual faith of the volunteers is never an issue.

“What we care about is that they believe in God,” he said. “Are they connected to a church and are they Christian? That’s the thing—we never have any doctrinal issues or discussions because we’re all there to serve God, and the fact that we’re all different actually makes us stronger and better.

“The only way you can do this is by having an non-judgmental attitude, and that has to start with how we treat one another before we check in on anyone on the street we meet.”

After setting off, the group I had joined headed down Buchanan Street.

The volunteers picked up a few glass bottles and disposed of them in a nearby bin, as every glass bottle is a potential weapon should a drunken scrap turn ugly.

 

A Catholic’s plight

The group then took to the bridge underneath Glasgow Central Station on Argyle Street.

There, a small gathering of men, some of whom were homeless, sat next to a closed shop with sleeping bags.

The street pastors had an already established relationship with the men, who recognised them and welcomed them immediately.

The team asked how they were doing and if there was anything they could do for them.

One man, Kieran, was recovering from substance abuse and, despite his plight, he remains strong in his Faith.

“I’m Catholic and still have and love my Faith,” he said. “I’m off heroin now but cocaine has taken over a bit.”

The root causes of Kieran’s battle with addiction stems from a wide range of issues, including the breakdown of his relationship with his family.

 

Hope and prayer

“I’ve got a Lourdes bracelet of the 12 saints that I hardly ever take off and I’ve got this ring too with a wee prayer on it.”

He showed me the ring, a dazzling silver colour with a small cross and a prayer inscribed in a tiny font.

I struggled to see exactly what the prayer said, but it appeared to be a message of hope.

After wishing the men well, Stuart, the coordinator, said: “This is the first time I’ve encountered Kieran on the street—and it’s all about interaction.

“The important thing is that you make somebody feel valued as a human being.”

 

Faith at the surface

Referring to his faith, he added: “I think you find that people of faith—whatever has happened in their life—if faith is something that’s a part of them it stays, and often it’s when you come to situations like this that faith comes to the surface. It gives them something to hold onto.

“We’re very fortunate because of the association with ‘pastor’; people will talk about their faith in ways they won’t with other people, which is great.”

 

Differences

The group then set off through the Merchant City and the Trongate areas. During the day, the districts of Glasgow city centre blend together. At night, they are starkly separated.

The demographics of Sauchiehall Street and the area filled with bars near Central Station tend to be comprised of young people, while in places like Merchant City there is an older demographic and the streets are significantly less busy.

The street pastor team helped an inebriated woman find her brother, who had unfortunately drawn the short straw of designated driver.

They watched over her to ensure she was OK, and after deciding she was too intoxicated, they helped her to call her sibling, who shortly arrived to take her and her friends home.

 

Police presence

Afterwards they set off round the corner where a young man was being restrained by several police officers.

He had been thrown out of a nearby pub, and some of his friends were speaking to the officers.

“With things like this we would always just walk on,” Stuart said as we walked past a rowdy crowd.

“Sometimes, the police will ask us to hang about to maybe speak with someone, but generally we would see that they’ve got it under control and keep walking.”

On the way back, police and people young and old waved and said hello to the Street Pastors—a small and endearing example of the respect they have garnered in the city for their work.

 

Hopelessness

The group decided to give the Central Station area another once over, and happened upon an older man who showed signs of being suicidal.

“I just want to be left outside to die,” he cried repeatedly.

The Street Pastors have a designated area within their church where those who are in need of serious help can go for a chat and a hot drink.

The man was not certain he wanted to go with the group, and, as he was in a heavily policed area with dozens of pedestrians, the group left knowing he would be all right.

“We’ll often hear people talk like this. They’re so depressed and just see no hope,” Stuart said.

“Sometimes you’ve got to act on it because you realise once you ask them some questions that it’s a serious issue and we’d make a phone call to the police.

“So you’d contact the authorities and say, ‘we’re dealing with an individual and they’re talking about suicide and we believe it’s a real issue.’

“However, in this situation, the guy has decided he doesn’t want any assistance and wants to stay where he is and we respect that as well so you don’t impose yourself on anybody.”

 

Sauchiehall Street

Towards the end of the night, the street pastors set off for Sauchiehall Street—the city centre’s sweet spot for shopping by day and its popular party strip at night.

Although the street was rife with people exiting clubs, enjoying their post-night-out kebabs, the street was mostly trouble-free.

The Street Pastors assisted one distressed woman who was alone and upset.

They gave her a pair of flip-flops as her feet were sore due to having danced in heels all night.

As they went about their work, police officers greeted the team with a nod and a smile.

 

Helping each other

Andy said they have a good relationship with the police force due to their ‘complementary skillsets’ in helping the community, despite initial fears from the Police when the Glasgow Street Pastors first formed a decade ago.

“There was a police officer I knew when we were setting up and he had said there were a lot of people who were really unhappy about what we were going to do.

“He said the last thing they needed was a bunch of do-gooders out in the street that they would have to nursemaid,” he explained.

“Within three months it was a totally different story. Police were saying things like, ‘wow, could you guys do more nights? A few more shifts?’

“We had won them over because they saw how we were able to make a difference and from their point of view they were used to dealing with stuff we could do instead. They know they’ve got us backing them.”

 

Christianity

Before the night came to a close, Andy commented on how their Christian ethos has been of help to others.

Recalling one man he had spoken with, he said: “Just before Christmas a homeless guy came up and said, ‘I’m really close to converting’ and we asked him to tell us a wee bit about that.

“So he said about how his mum was a church-goer, having gone for 40 years. She got cancer and died really quickly.

“So then, I had the chance to tell him about my own mum dying really quickly from cancer and telling of the experience I had talking to her about God, and asking her ‘do you want to receive Jesus?’ She had said yes and less than 10 days later she died.

“I was really sad about remembering losing my mum but the thing was, God allowed me to be there in that moment, which ironically is the same thing as the Street Pastor training, where you don’t approach people with your doctrine—you approach people and say, ‘how can I help you?’

“You speak to them on a human level, and that creates a bridge for the spiritual conversation.”

Street Pastors have a presence in major towns throughout the UK. For more information, visit: www.streetpastors.org

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