ON THE SREETS AT CHRISTMAS IN WESTMINSTER
We pile onto bus 24 for the short trip to our patrol patch of Trafalgar Square and the Strand. Our jackets and caps make it clear who we are. The bus driver looks on curiously.
“Street Pastors!” he says, “What’s the story?”
“The Lord Jesus loves you! “ I reply, quick as a flash.
“Ah!” he says smiling and nodding his head.
The tall Norwegian Christmas tree, awash with hundreds of blue lights, welcomes us to the square. We split up into two groups of three and start our patrol. It’s 0°C, the weekend before Christmas. We notice a nativity crib display and go to take a look. We’re sorely disappointed. It looks pretty miserable with tiny weird figures looking quite lost in a large glass case. There’s a dodgy looking angel suspended from the top of the case at a funny angle and for some reason Mary has been placed quite a distance away from the other figures. She is wearing her regulatory blue robe but this one looks quite strange and has a train. She looks for all the world like a bride about to walk up the church aisle.
We turn away from the depressing display and notice three young ladies sitting on a bench. They’re all wearing itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, extra micro-mini skirts. They’re not wearing coats and one isn’t even wearing tights.
“Aren’t you cold?” we ask her incredulously
“I’m freezing!” she says
Her friends show little sympathy. Besides, even with their tights, they’re cold themselves.
We make our way to the Strand passing a pub called ‘Halfway to Heaven’ on the way.
Before we get to the Strand, just behind St. Martin in the Fields, we meet a young homeless man. He’s lost his job and his girlfriend’s kicked him out. We try to get help for him and chat with him for a while. When we start to move on he gets quite upset.
“Please don’t leave me! It’s nice to have someone to talk to. No-one stops to talk with homeless people like me.”
We promise to check on him on our way back.
We take our break in the 24 hour McDonald’s in the Strand and some people there engage us in conversation.
We make our way to ‘Heaven’ – a gay club off the Strand. The bouncers and security staff on the doors know us well. They are always welcoming and happy for us to chat with the clientele. We’re standing by the security barrier when a young man and woman come out of the club. They glance at us and walk on then stop. The man appears to remonstrate with the woman then comes back towards us and says,
“Have you ever looked inside yourself?”
Hm, strange question I think. My two fellow street pastors, both men, respond and begin to engage him in conversation. The young man’s female companion comes over to me.
“What do you people think about people like him?” she asks.
She’s uneasy. Her companion is carrying on an extremely animated discussion with my colleagues.
“What do you mean?” I say – I know exactly what she means but a.) I want her to actually say it and b.) I am praying that the Lord gives me the right words to say.
“You know,” she says,” gay people.”
I tell her that as Christians our beliefs and faith are grounded in God’s Word – the Bible. She asks me what the Bible says about gay people.
I tell her what the Bible says. I tell her we are all sinners, that Christ loves us but cannot tolerate our sin. I tell her the story of the woman caught in adultery that was dragged before Jesus. I am praying all the time I’m talking.
All the time I’m talking to her she’s constantly glancing at her companion. He is getting quite belligerent. Talk about being ‘in your face’ – sometimes he is literally nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball with my fellow street pastors!
“Do you want to help your friends?” she asks me nervously.
“No, they can look after themselves” I say and continue talking to her.
“Do you know how hard it is to be me?” I hear the young man say angrily at one point. His words cut me to the core. The pain behind them is almost tangible.
Lord Jesus, intervene in his life!
The young lady runs over to some other friends. She’s afraid her friend is out of control. He’s practically screaming, spoiling for a fight – but my fellow street pastors aren’t taking the bait.
The young lady and some others come over as do the three other street pastors in the vicinity.
“You shouldn’t be here” the young lady says.
I’m a bit puzzled as she seemed quite at ease with me a moment ago and now appears to be quite antagonistic. She moves away from me.
The security men from the club come over and tell the angry young man to leave us alone as we’re only there to help people.
Everyone’s talking. The angry young man’s friends are trying to calm him down. The street pastors are talking to people explaining why we’re there. The young lady comes back to me.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “I thought you guys were here to make a stand, to protest, outside the club.” I tell her that wasn’t our intention, we were only there to help people, to show them the love of Christ.
“I know,” she says, “Can I give you a hug?”
Eventually we have to walk away from the angry young man and the little group that has gathered around us as there’s no other way to diffuse the situation.
As we walk away I notice a young lady standing by the barriers outside the club. Tears intermingled with mascara are coursing down her cheeks. She’s wearing a flimsy blouse and trousers.
“What’s the matter?” I ask her. She’s hugging herself, arms wrapped tightly around her slight frame.
“I’m cold” she says, “I’m so cold!”
She’s begun to physically shake. I put an arm around her shoulders and hand her tissues.
“Stop crying,” I say. I take off my scarf and wrap it round her shoulders.
She’s left her jacket in the club and for some reason is not being allowed back in. Apparently her friend has gone back in to retrieve it but seems to be taking her time.
I appeal to the bouncers and security staff to let her back in. Eventually they relent – then just at that moment the angry young man appears and shouts to the cold, weeping woman:
“Don’t talk to those people!”
The door staff tell him to leave me alone – as does his female companion who pulls him away.
We walk away and stop to commit the situation to the Lord along the way. We pray for the angry young man and his companion. We pray for the cold, weeping young woman.
We’ve never experienced antagonism on the streets before – people have generally been pleasant and welcoming.
We return to the homeless man and whilst we’re talking to him a couple come along. They’ve been attending an office Christmas party and are in a good mood. They chat with us for a while and we learn they work for a homeless charity. As they leave the man pulls out his wallet and hands the homeless man a £20 note.
We are all speechless.
“I know how it is,” he says, “I was on the street once. My parents kicked me out when I told them I was gay.”
We walk to Whitehall to get the bus back to base at the end of our patrol – past the sad Trafalgar square nativity display which seems even more depressing now.
The bus is quite crowded and we have to stand. People stare at us and I hear someone ask one of my colleagues who we are. She begins talking to him. A man standing near me asks:
“Who are street pastors?”
I start to explain.
“We’re Christians who go out on a Friday night/Saturday morning to help people. We’re there to care, to listen and show the love of Christ…….”
He smiles and nods as I continue talking to him. He asks questions and I respond.
It’s Christmastime in Westminster on an extremely frosty morning.
Peace on earth.
Goodwill to all men.