Last night I spent a good part of the evening with the Penzance Street Pastors team. For me this was very illuminating, firstly because I was intrigued to see what they do and what drives them and secondly to see PZ after dark on a saturday night. The former I knew little of and the latter i haven't experienced for quite a while. I very much enjoyed my evening and learnt a great deal about the Pastors, Christians, faith, duty and service as well of course as about drunkeness and debauchery.
I am the town councils representative for the Street Pastors which means I sit on their Management Committee and report back to the council their work. The Street Pastors -in Penzance at least- is a relatively new thing and receives financial support from the town council. There are many groups and organisations (all not for profit) who receive grants and other assistance from the council. So it was important for me to see first hand what they do, although I must confess to sloping off about half 2 and not staying the whole night. The biggest night club in town, Sound closed last night/ this morning at 4 and next week I understand at 5! Which as the patrol starts at 10 and finishes some time between half 4 and 6 is certainly not a shift for the faint hearted.
Who are the Street Pastors and what do they do? Well it's probably fair to start with what they don't do and some of the misconceptions around their work. Although they are dyed in the wool Christians, they don't volunteer their saturday nights to preach the good book to the drunken masses. They will certainly explain their faith if asked, I witnessed a few people challenging their faith and the role of religion. I should say at this point I am not a religious man and fall into the agnostic pigeon hole, so watching these kind of debates was interesting for me. The Pastors don't preach the evils of drink, or moralise or judge, they aren't there to convert people to a healthier or more sobre saturday night. Simply the Street Pastors are there because they care, to assist people, to help them and to provide essentially a friendly face, it's fair to say a public service to the late night revellers.
The 3 staples of the Pastors are bottles of water, flip flops and sweets. Last night, we encountered half a dozen people being sick, to them the bottle of water given was no doubt most welcome. It was by no means just people vomiting that were given a bottle of water. The flip flops are given to mostly women who have either lost their shoes (which I didn't see any of last night) or those that are carrying their shoes. Their feet tired and drunken balance challenged by their unfeasibly large heels, to them solid basic (and most of all flat) footwear was most welcome. Sweets is actually very ingenious, not just because people like them but because they are given to loud and shouting people because a mouth full of sugar tends to make them quieter. Although it must be said that although last night was very busy, there wasn't a great deal of trouble or shouting and was very much a good atmosphere.
One of the other roles of the Pastors to watch over people's welfare. They are by no means bouncers or agents of the law. But armed with a radio they can talk with the people who man the cctv who in turn can contact the police. Who can call in police officers to break up fights.
I set out with a fair amount of trepidation about the Street Pastors and being in town sobre on a saturday night. It wasn't something I could really understand doing myself. Why give up a sizeable part of a weekend to seek out the most drunk, the vomiting and the rowdy, for no personal gain? I think differently about it now, don't get me wrong I always admired the Street Pastors and their selfless determination, but I really couldn't understand why anyone sane would do it. They all told me of how their faith in God guided them. It's not something I completely understand, my world, my thinking morality and drivers in life aren't framed in such a way.
I guess what I learnt last night was not the utility of flip flops or bottles of water or how friendly people are to the Pastors. But that even for a non believer like myself that the sacrifice of time and energy for no personal gain or obvious reward is a great asset to the community. That it's such a great relief to think that people are helped, that might otherwise find themselves in a worse state.
Do the people deserve to be helped? you might ask, does someone that drinks themselves until the point of oblivion, really deserve help? Maybe the answer is yes perhaps no. But the ethos of the Street Pastors, doesn't consider such things.the important thing is that someone NEEDS helping and they are there to do it.
If you want to know more or get involved the Penzance Street Pastors have a website here penzance.streetpastors.org.uk and go and like their facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/PenzanceStreetPastors
Many thanks to the team who took me out, one of the better saturday nights I've had in town :-)