Less than three weeks after his inauguration the new Bishop of Guildford was busy getting to know the communities he serves, from the pavement up.
On a chilly Friday March 20th night into the early hours of Saturday the Rt Revd Andrew Watson walked and talked the streets of Woking and Guildford with teams of Street Angels who serve the town centres' night-time visitors by offering a friendly face and help to those in need.
Since it was formed by the town’s churches in 2010 Woking Street Angels has helped an average of 420 people per year, by enabling them to get home, applying first aid, listening to them and handing out over 2,000 pairs of flip flops.
Woking Street Angels coordinator Catherine Ray said: “We meet a huge range of people; those who are out drinking to forget, those who are out celebrating, soldiers returning from tours of duty, students returning home from university, people laughing, crying, shouting, many who speak English and some who do not.
“Street Angels approach every situation with care, compassion and a desire to help. It is always a joy to be accompanied by those who are interested in finding out more about what we do, so we are looking forward to sharing our experiences with Bishop Andrew and hope that he will get a sense for the town and some of the challenges people face.”
Bishop Andrew said: "I was delighted to meet some Street Angels in my first week in the role, and to hear about their work in Guildford, Woking, Camberley, Aldershot and Fleet - so when I was invited to join the teams, I jumped at the opportunity."
“Street Angels are one of the church's gifts to our communities - groups of volunteers going onto the streets late on Friday and Saturday nights, helping to ensure that our young people are safe and supported. Town centres patrolled by Street Angels see marked reductions in violent crime, sexual assaults and antisocial behaviour."
"What struck me was how volatile the atmosphere can feel late at night. It's very hands-on ministry and I came away having met some wonderful volunteers who really know what's going on out there and I couldn't help wondering if there are some more excellent opportunities for ministry, particularly perhaps for men and women who really want to roll their sleeves up and get involved in their church and community, but haven't found the right way to do that yet."
Among the interactions that Bishop Andrew witnessed were: conversations with a group of men from a local hostel; a physical confrontation that took place in our midst, resulting in an arrest being made; and help for a vulnerable homeless woman sitting at the bus station.
These are just a few examples of a busy night in town for the Street Angels in Guildford.
We appreciated Bishop Andrew for giving of his time, to sample a night in town, with the Street Angels. As another of our volunteers said afterwards, "All in all (we) felt honoured he took an interest."
Another Street Angel observed, “The Bishop was very supportive of the work of the Street Angels, and was keen to engage with them and with the people out in the town late that Friday night.”
Guildford Street Angels Coordinator, Fiona Ford, says: "On behalf of the Guilford Town Centre Chaplaincy and the Street Angels teams, I would like to thank Bishop Andrew for coming out with the Street Angels in Guildford, where he spent an eventful night. As one of our volunteers said afterwards, we were grateful that he was "not presented with a sanitised experience when nothing happens but he got acquainted with the all the issues that we face in the course of our work”.
Give it a go!
Most Street Angels provide training for new recruits twice a year - and are willing for you to join them for a 'taster' session to see if you or your friends want to get involved in some way. For more information visit:
Woking - www.wokingstreetangels.org.uk
Guildford - www.gtcc.org.uk/street-angels (Fiona Ford, on firstname.lastname@example.org)
Camberley - www.churchestogetherincamberley.org.uk
Aldershot - www.tcpt.org.uk
Fleet - www.fleettowncentreproject.org.uk
Bishop Andrew tweeted: "An eventful night out with the Street Angels, ministering the love of Christ to the volatile, the vulnerable and the very drunk."