This evening I gave a presentation to a group of Colchester Borough councillors about the work of Street Pastors in our town. Also there was Debbie speaking about the SOS Bus project she heads up with whom we have a great working partnership. Let me put on record... we love these guys and the work they do. We love it that we can work in partnership with them and that dozens of ordinary people volunteer to give up an evening to help others in the town centre.
There is a genuine appreciation for the work of Street Pastors from the public and also from the councillors we met this evening. But there was one question that bugged me.
One of the councillors asked me to comment on something someone had said to him - that Street Pastors somehow saw themselves as having a monopoly on the role of caring for people on the streets at night. We know this isn't something that's been said by any of our team, and it's certainly not the reaction we get from people we meet on a Friday or Saturday night who are generally really comfortable with the fact that we're Christians.
What bugs me isn't that someone might suspect such exclusivist nonsense of us. It's the worrying realisation that they feel they have grounds for such suspicion in the first place. How has the church behaved all these years if, as soon as it steps out to care unconditionally for others, it is suspected of doing so to claim some moral superiority over other people? (We know some of these other people - they turn out on Friday and Saturday nights too, not in the name of the church, but to care nevertheless and to help people through the work of the SOS bus.)
Of course, we weave for ourselves a mighty complex web if we attempt to answer all the shifting and unspoken assumptions of others. The world has its suspicions; sometimes it is right. By our actions, by loving the world as Christ did, we are perhaps earning again the right to be heard, even if some of our earnings are going to pay off a debt of suspicion. The councillor who raised the question (not a Christian) emphasised his enthusiastic endorsement of what Street Pastors do. We need to keep doing it.
As Paul said to Titus:
"Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men."