Community Engagement: Some Reality

In Harrow we have found different ways of working together, both with the secular authorities and amongst ourselves as God's people in this community.  My own church works with the education authority to run a Forest School program, through which young people who are not achieving are drawn in from the margins through the curriculum program.  The program is inherently gospel, those who are on the 'outside' are included and are given skills by which to engage more fruitfully in their own communities, they are being given the things they need to flourish and become the people they are made to be - nothing more gospel than this.  We have found that the educational authorities are very happy to work with us and appreciate our desire to impact for good the community where we live.

But what about working with other Christians?

It is not only justifying any engagement from a Christian doctrine perspective where some of the 'trickiness' comes.  Even when Christians agree that engagement is needed, there are so many perceptions of what it means to be in the community, to 'Seek the welfare of the City', within Christian thinking.  How then do we work with each other across that City?  Working with the secular authorities might seem a walk in the park compared to working with other Christians.

What we have found here, and I think that this is being seen nationally also, is that there are certain activities which seem to be drawing many different types of Christians together.  Among these seem to be the Street Pastors initiative.

Our Street Pastors team (follow on twitter @streetpastorHA1) has a breadth of denominations (which is actually required of the initiative): we have RC, CofE, URC/Methodist, Free Church, Baptist, Pentecostal working together: 6 denominations, 18 churches, 50 Christians.

Our remit is to patrol the main streets of our town, from 10pm-4am each Friday: listening to those who need listening to; helping those who've found themselves worse for wear or skint and unable to get home, or even in need of the emergency services; and caring for people, whether it's a lollipop or water after they've been sick, or a pair of flipflops once their shoes get too sore after a night of dancing.

This is no mean feat.  I don't think we are under any illusion that if we scratched the surface on particular ethical issues or doctrinal beliefs, we might find a number of differences.  And they would be differences that in any other situation we might find ourselves fighting about!  But Street Pastors is fundamentally about 'Seeking the welfare of the City'.  Our remit as we patrol is to make Harrow a good place to be.  Based on the premise that most people want to go out on a Friday night, have a good time and make it safely back home, we are there to make the town centre a flourishing place. We are also finding that the mantra that 'Harrow have no Homeless' is being challenged by our work on the streets and that the council are extremely pleased to have our help in working out the best way to listen to and help those who, for whatever reason, find themselves on street.

I suspect this kind of work focuses us entirely on the 'other'.  It prevents us from naval-gazing, from trying to figure out God, away from the world where God is.

And *do* I find God there?

In 'Seeking the welfare of the City' do I find my own welfare?  Do I, as I said in my previous post, find God?

Well it's not quite as neat and tidy as that - would we really expect it to be?!  Some nights I know that we are there as the presence of Jesus in those places.  Some nights it seems bloody obvious: when we call ambulances, police, social services, and when we can see up close and personal that our presence has prevented something destructive, or more destructive, from happening.  And some nights we walk alone and wonder what the point of us might be.

But I think that there is something inherently Christian in being 'angels in the night' - watching, waiting, announcing, pronouncing and leaving.  Sometimes wondering at the ordered or chaotic lives that we see.  Sometimes unable to 'do' anything at all.

As I write this, I watch the rain tumbling down my window and think about tonight's patrol.  I'm likely going to be very wet, this may make it quiet in terms of revellers, who will quickly seek shelter in the pubs and clubs of the town.  I think about the few homeless people that we see regularly and think about the coffee flask that we must remember to take out and the gloves, blankets and socks that we are stocked with, which will inevitably be used tonight.  And the 'Truths' that we so often fight about as Christians (haven't we been doing it quite well on 'gay marriage' this week *rolls eyes*), suddenly seem to dim before *the* Truth.  Before the One who, I have absolutely no doubt, is also out on the streets tonight.

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