Nearly 20 School Pastors were licensed at Ormskirk Parish Church recently as one of the first schemes of its type in the country was launched. Les Isaac OBE, the founder of Street Pastors was on hand to formally launch the scheme and give it the blessing of the Ascension Trust.
School Pastors are founded on the same principles as Street Pastors with Christian volunteers working together to be a non-judgemental listening and caring presence for students and staff in a school community. The pastors are working predominantly with the secondary schools in Ormskirk focusing on the time when students are travelling to and from school.
Dave Mutch, an elder at Ormskirk Christian Fellowship and a driving force behind School Pastors in Ormskirk told the service that the pastors were about friendship, caring and safety. He said he was inspired to do something when he found his grandchild had been approached with drugs when they were on their way to school.
The pastors have the full support of the local police with the local Chief Inspector speaking at the service. They also have the backing of the local secondary schools and the pastors have been to speak to Year Six students of the local primary schools. They see themselves as offering what the schools can’t offer focussing on the times students are outside of the school gates.
As well as licensing the pastors Les Isaac spoke of the vision and inspiration of school pastors responding to the challenge that between 2 pm and 5 pm are the times of the highest crime rates in the country. To offer a safe space at that time will help young people at a time when they can be vulnerable is one of the key roles and Les urged others to buy into that vision.
We spoke to Les Isaac and Bejoy Pal from the Ascension Trust about school pastors, how they came about and how more of us can get involved.
Why did you decide to found school pastors?
There were two conversations that were taking place that had an impact on School Pastors starting.
The first was in Lewisham as a result of a chance encounter with teachers and Street Pastors one Friday evening in 2007. The teachers asked the Street Pastors to be a positive presence at the end of the school day. There were three high schools on the same road that finished at the same time and was causing tension between the community. The local Street Pastor team responded by showing up at the end of the school day a few times a week to keep the peace and start building relationships with the young people, the staff and wider community. This school was so impressed and grateful that they asked the Street Pastors to then be a positive presence in the schools at lunch breaks and take assemblies and provide pastoral support for students and teachers alike.
The second conversation took place in Lambeth at approximately the same time in 2007, where Les spoke with the local police where he was informed between the hours of 1400 and 1800 there is a spike in crime rates and anti-social behaviour because of the presence of young people. Not that young people were perpetrating the crime, but the sheer influx of students at the end of the school day meant that tensions rose because of the increased presence on the Streets.
So after some pilot projects in Croydon, Lambeth and Lewisham, School Pastors officially launched in 2011.
How does it work?
School Pastors primarily works by developing strong relationships between the local churches, schools/colleges, council/education authority, potentially police, and youth work organisations that may be operating in the area. The key idea is that recruits from the local churches ask the school Senior management, what are some of the challenges that they/their students are facing and how can we be of assistance? There are a variety of different models as to how this operates and looks like, but the key component is responding to the needs of the local community/schools. The simple task that we can offer is a non-judgemental, listening and caring presence for the students and staff within the school.
How is it received by schools?
It has been very well received by schools, both faith schools and non-faith schools.
From the very beginning, it is outlined that School Pastors is a relationship ministry, in the sense that we are working with the school to support the students and staff. The schools are also happy to signpost students to the care and support that School Pastors offer and one quote from a headteacher in Newcastle said ‘School Pastors aren’t really about plugging a gap, but rather they add value to the school community and give students the opportunity to speak to a responsible adult without any pressure, in order to grow in confidence and process any issues that are impacting their lives’.
What do you do if there isn’t a group in your community?
If there aren’t currently School Pastors in your community, we can help guide you through the process and look at models of engaging churches/schools/police/council/other stakeholders in sharing a vision that will empower the work in support of young people. A minimum of 4 different denominations is required to create the board/management team but the emphasis is heavily on partnership and collaboration.
For more on this please contact firstname.lastname@example.org