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Archbishop of York Addresses the Street Pastors Conference

Sunday 15th November 2009

The Archbishop of York gave the keynote address at the inaugural Street Pastors conference on Saturday 14 November at the Emmanuel Centre in Marsham Street, Westminster....

It is a great pleasure and privilege to be with you all this evening to celebrate the work and ministry of the Street Pastors. I thank you for your commitment, your compassion, and the reality and groundedness of your love for your fellow human beings.

Your work and your service is a wonderful example of God at work in the world, and it is so encouraging to know that you are out and about on the streets of our cities, touching the lives of many people who are frequently directionless, aimless, sometimes faith-less, and often hopeless.

All across this country from Plymouth to Newcastle, from Crawley to Carlisle; and beyond that, in Scotland and in Wales, the passion of people to serve on the streets has taken root. You have now a group in Antigua, and are beginning to develop the work in West Africa? And all this in 6 years. Wow!

I would like to read Psalm 46, a song of praise and promise which I think is particularly appropriate for this gathering

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,.....
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord...
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;...
'Be still, and know that I am God!...
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge".

Immanuel, God with US. What a promise!

"God is our refuge".

As you walk the streets, I am sure you come across many people who just need somewhere safe to be, somewhere they can shelter from life.

Maybe it's just somewhere to take refuge from bad weather or maybe it's the need for protection from the threat of violence. Your presence on the streets is bringing God's refuge into the lives of people who need it.

Why should the churches be going out trying to meet these needs?

Quite simply, because that is what we are called by God to do. God gives us a great commandment and a great commission, and we are to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick. It is what being a disciple of Jesus all is about.

We need to do it, not just think about it.

As St Theresa of Avila, put it "Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world."

It isn't about volume, but if you can make a difference for just one person then it has meaning.

God gives us an enormous responsibility not just to tell people about the Good News of God, but to show it in practical ways.

These expressions of love are all part of how we must meet the needs of the world today. St Francis of Assisi told his monks, "Go and preach the Gospel. Use words if you must."

As Street Pastors, you are following in the footsteps of our Lord whose ministry was not in buildings, but on the highways and byways of the country; reaching out to people where they were.

You are preaching the Gospel every evening that you walk down the street; with every prayer, every conversation with those you meet

We are commissioned to go out to our neighbours with God's message of love in Jesus Christ. And our neighbours are those who are in need! We are called to reach out to people who are desperately searching for identity, meaning and belonging.

"God is our strength".

We cannot go out into the world without first going in to God, in prayer and in humility to ask for his strength to uphold us in every thing we do. It is good to know that everything you do, as Street Pastors, is underpinned and surrounded by prayer, and you bring that strength to others as you pray for them.

"God is ever present".

We can go out knowing that through his Holy Spirit, God is present in every single person we meet, in every conversation we have, in every move we make.

"God is with us in times of trouble".

We may meet up with all kinds of trouble day by day in our lives. Out on the street we see the troubles of others. But we know that God won't desert us, and we can share our confidence in him with others.

"Therefore we will not fear"

The Psalmist was writing at a time when the city was under threat.

And in these days too, we know that there is violence on our streets, with young people walking in terror of their lives because of gun and knife crime. But we can share the promise that God is with us, and so we will not fear.

"God is in the midst of the city".

When crime involving the use of guns and knives by young people is on the increase, we can help stem the tide by our outreach to young people.

Each one of you here tonight has confronted the questions "What are the needs in my community? How do they affect my neighbours' lives? What am I going to do about it?" And you have chosen to hear God's assurance that "he is in the midst of the city".

Psalm 46 ends with a final assurance for the future

"Come and see the works of the Lord..."

The works of the Lord are everything we hope for – the promise of peace and an end to violence. So much of the trouble in our cities is because people are at war with one another, at war with their families, at war with themselves, and at war with God. But there will come a time when God will finally overthrow all strife and wars, and establish his Kingdom of Peace. And then we need to be still and know that he is God.

This is an eternal promise for the world, but it is also a promise for our day to day lives.

The Lord of hosts is with us. Thank you for going out week by week to show his presence on the streets, making visible the reality of that Psalm. God is our refuge and our strength. Wherever we are he is our protection, our defender and our support.

May God's peace go before you and God's kindness behind you and God's comfort beside you. In the name of Christ. Amen.

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