A relatively new ministry in the United Kingdom is including beach patrol duty by pastors and church volunteers who are working with local police and city officials to keep a seaside resort safe – and offer assistance to drunken youth.
A group of 20 volunteers who are part of the ministry known as "Street Pastors" are working in Whitstable, a beach town in Northeast Kent, Southeast England.
"We set out to listen, help and care for members of our local community with a focus on the safety of young people on the beaches," said Chris Izzard, who is a founding member and pastor of Tankerton Evangelical Church, according to The Guardian.
"The young people gather on the beach to party and drink alcohol, which can result in them becoming vulnerable. We carry water, flip-flops and blankets to give out."
This branch of the Street Pastors formed earlier this year after church leaders talked with local police and the council about how they might help. They began patrolling last month after training including basic counseling skills, and sea safety from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, reported The Guardian.
There have been no objections about churches playing a part in the town's safety, said Izzard.
"We have been able to rescue a young girl down from London who missed the last train home and lost contact with her friends. We were able to escort her around the town until we found her friends," he said.
Street Pastors was founded by the Rev. Les Isaac, director of the Ascension Trust, in 2003 as a tool for local churches to attack urban violence and the gang culture. Originally, the ministry did have to address concerns about being viewed as strictly an evangelism mechanism, according to The Guardian.
However, the operations director of the Ascension Trust said the Street Pastors program is not primarily evangelical. The operation oversees and runs 10,000 street pastors throughout the U.K.
"Sometimes rightly, churches have been criticized for not being more active within their communities. This is about playing our part. Street pastors started out urban, but now we are in villages and towns all over the country," said operation director Eustace Constance.
"Faith-based citizen patrols, such as street pastors, have made a significant difference by helping people and keeping them safe," said Simon Cole, chief constable of Leicestershire and Association of Chief Police Officers, who also says volunteers have widespread support. "I have spent time with the local street pastors in my own force and they do a magnificent job."
Apparently, some people in the U.K. were concerned enough about whether Street Pastors was violating issues of church and state that the University of Plymouth did a study.
However, the college's research showed that "reactions were 'overwhelmingly positive' and that while it was unclear what, if any, kind of impact they had on crime, there was no evidence that pastors were evangelizing," according to The Guardian.