Taunton Street Pastors celebrate ten years of community service
This spring sees Taunton Street Pastors celebrating ten years of listening, caring and offering practical help on the streets of the town. Of the 127 volunteers from local churches who have turned out in all weathers into the early hour of the morning 11 are still serving, and one of those is over 80!
Street Pastors describe themselves as ‘Christians with their sleeves rolled up’ and engage in a friendly way with people of all ages, offering a listening ear, a bottle of water and, most famously, free flip flops to those who have discarded their party shoes. Nearly 30,000 hours of service has seen over 17,000 bottles and cans removed from the streets to avoid injury; 5,000 drinks served to rehydrate or warm revellers and more than 4,000 flip flops given away.
More significantly, team members have calmed aggressive situations, comforted very distressed people and sign-posted rough sleepers and others with mental health problems to support services and places of safety. Contrary to popular suppositions, whilst the teams don’t preach, questions of faith are often raised by the late night party-goers and Street Pastors regularly respond to requests for prayer.
The development of day-time teams in the North Taunton and Halcon areas three years ago has helped local churches engage more practically with residents and the blue-uniformed teams are now a regular sight at litter pick and other community activities. Team members have responded at times of crisis, organising the vigil and dedication events after the M5 crash, offering a ‘safe space café’ for flood victims in 2014 and provided welfare support at Somerset Rocks concerts and Taunton Flower Show.
The Taunton Street Pastor team was honoured in 2014 with The Queen’s Award for volunteering, described as ‘the MBE for voluntary groups’. The pastors are quick to dismiss labels such as ‘brave’ or courageous’, claiming that they are simply following the example set by Jesus who washed feet, commended care for the marginalised and offered unconditional love to all who he encountered.
For more information visit www.streetpastors.org