Sutton Pastors is a Sutton Coldfield Churches Together initiative to provide informal pastoral care to the patrons of the Sutton Coldfield town centre night time economy. The ministry started in April 2013. Teams of four go out on Saturday nights from 10pm until about 2am. Two volunteers are based at a table on the Parade serving hot drinks, water and sweets. There are seats where people are welcome to take time out or chat for a while. The other two volunteers walk around the town centre, keeping an eye out for vulnerable people, building relationships with door staff and promoters and removing glass bottles that could become weapons in a brawl. Flip flops are available to protect the bare feet of women who have had to take off their high heels. Volunteers have cards available for prayer requests and they are passed on to the prayer team.
During the last year, 9 people from the town churches came out with us as on a ’taster’ and 5 became volunteers. However, 7 established volunteers had to withdraw so we now have 25 volunteers. The aim is to do one session monthly but not all can achieve that so some weeks we have only 2 or 3 on duty and on three occasions we were not able to field a team at all. We also have a team of prayer supporters. Some make a point of praying on Saturday evenings while we are out on The Parade. When people we meet realise we are Christian volunteers they sometimes tell us their stories and ask for prayer. These requests are passed to the prayer team. It would be nice to know what happens but in the nature of our contact we rarely have any follow up. We have had two new members join our 15-strong prayer team.
Our work has featured in many of the town churches’ newsletters. We have had the opportunity to speak at two churches and a group from one church has adopted us as their ‘charity of the year.’ It seems Sutton Pastors is gradually becoming known and accepted as an aspect of Christian ministry in the town.
We interact at each session with a few hundred people. With some it is a passing smile or ‘hi,’ and the only response may be a headshake or shrug when we offer free refreshments. That may be it; but 30 or even more than 50 on some nights, interact further and take sweets, a hot drink or water and some are interested in having a Spikey (a bottle stopper that helps prevent drinks being spiked). Conversations are usually brief but some start a discussion, that may be continued on later occasions. The conversation often starts with a question about who we are and why we are volunteering! out on the Parade on a Saturday night. It invariably ends with a cheerful handshake or hug. Undoubtedly the reputation of the Christian church is enhanced through the ministry of Sutton Pastors! Some discussions continue when we meet again a week or even a month or more later and a few make a point of greeting us each time they pass by. We meet a couple or even a dozen police officers. Some are on walking patrols while others park nearby between calls and maybe enjoy a coffee from us. Pubs and night clubs have door staff we meet when we are out and about. They may be busy so we can do no more than offer them a sweet but occasionally there is time for a longer conversation. One such led to us leaving a supply of flip-flops for use when the night club closed at 5 am and further supplies are now provided as needed. That is typical of the caring and considerate attitude we meet from door staff and police.
Our role in the town centre was part of the reason a Purple Flag was awarded in 2016 to the town’s night time economy. This award recognises the provision of, ‘a vibrant and diverse mix of dining, entertainment and culture while promoting the safety and wellbeing of visitors and local residents.’ See http://suttoncoldfieldlocal.co.uk/purple-flag-award-205302/ for more information.
Here are some stories that illustrate what we do.
- One young woman was made to leave a night club because she was drunk. She was angry and swearing and was at risk of being arrested but sat done with us and had a coffee. She complained bitterly to us, passing police officers and the friends she phoned – and had some more coffee. After an hour or so she settled down and phoned a friend to come for her. Before she left she had a calm conversation with the doormen who had dealt with her.
- One young man was carrying his girlfriend on his back as she could no longer cope in her high heels. Both were very grateful for the flip-flops we gave.
- There are a handful of people who have adopted an outdoor life in our town (though some do have a home and a bed available to them) and some beg. Befriending is a slow process but it is happening. Some now know us by name and trust us enough to share something of their story. Listening but not asking much, a smile, a handshake and the offer of coffee and sweets are our main roles.
- A police sergeant sent us a message, ‘I always pop by and say hello whenever operational commitments allow, it’s great to see the positive change that the Street Pastors have had on the night time economy in Sutton Coldfield.’
In the past 12 months, an average of 3 Pastors have been out each week. We gave out about 900 drinks of coffee, tea, chocolate or water, 175 pairs of flip-flops and innumerable sweets. We binned about 870 bottles that were potential weapons.
We try to refuse donations but some of our contacts are persistent and it would be ungracious to refuse. The £301.83 we have been given covers the supply of drinks, sweets, flip-flops etc. The association of town centre businesses appreciates our presence and expresses this by paying the £349.91 cost of our public liability insurance. The police support us with occasional supplies of flip-flops and pre-packed coffee and chocolate drinks. That means we have not had to call on the funds Churches Together have set aside for our needs.
Are you interested?
Serving with Sutton Pastors is open to members of the churches in Sutton Coldfield with the approval of their minister. If you would like to know more, join us on a ‘taster’ night and if you like it (and survive the next day) become a volunteer, or join our prayer partners. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text Frank Cole on 09764090954.