BANGOR, Maine — Bangor becomes the second city in the nation next week to implement the Street Pastors program, when clergy and volunteers from five local churches will begin roaming downtown streets to care for, listen to and help the people they encounter.
Street Pastors was founded in England in 2003 as an inter-denominational church response to urban problems. It now has 12,000 trained volunteers working in 280 locations in the United Kingdom the West Indies, Australia and Chico, California, the Rev. Eustace Constance of Street Pastors in London, said Friday at a press conference in Pickering Square.
“I read about this two years ago,” the Rev. Renee Garrett, minister of Christian nurture at All Souls Congregational Church on Broadway in Bangor, said. “They seemed to be making a dent in urban strife in the United Kingdom. I looked at what was happening in our community and said, ‘We need to do this in Bangor.’”
Three years ago, Bangor was the epicenter of Maine’s bath salts epidemic. Bath salts, also called “monkey dust,” is a synthetic hallucinogen that can cause people to exhibit bizarre behaviors and, sometimes, become violent. The drug was not widely outlawed until 2012.
The Rev. Phil Mumford, pastor of the First Assembly of God Church on Finson Road in Bangor, and his congregation decided to join Garrett in her effort to bring the Street Pastor program to the Queen City.
“We’re getting training from local police,” he said Friday. “We want to respond to any situation as [anyone] would as a good citizen. Our long-term goal as a church is to reach out to teens in our neighborhood.”
Constance and his wife, Sharon Constance, are in Bangor to train volunteers. Those who sign up to help must undergo 42 hours of training, which includes learning how to respond to people who are intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, suffering from a mental illness or in a possible medical crisis.
“Our training includes learning which agencies or organizations we can send people to so they can get the help they need,” Garrett said.
Eustace Constance said that although the work for volunteers is based in their Christian faith, the goal of Street Pastors is not evangelization.
“We’re not going out with a big 4-by-4 Bible, hitting people over the head,” he said. “We’re there to care, listen and help.”
Thirty volunteers, ranging in age from their early 20s to their 60s, have agreed to take part in the outreach ministry, the pastor said. The plan is to have teams downtown between 8 p.m. Friday until 2 a.m. Saturdays, an hour after the bars close.
Local volunteers will launch the Street Pastors program in Pickering Square at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29. A representative of the Bangor police department is scheduled to attend.
Other participating churches include Bangor Baptist Church on Center Street in Bangor, Advent Christian Church on outer Broadway in Bangor and North Brewer-Eddington United Methodist Church on Main Road in Eddington.