Who is this describing: out on the streets; wearing everyday clothes; making friends with everybody and anybody; proclaiming the Good News in deed and action; trying to work out their relation to the organised churches; likely to revive the church from the margins?
The medieval friars, of course. Think of St Francis, out on the dangerous streets of Italian cities like Arezzo, banishing demons or lifting lepers off the road. Or St Dominic, finding ways to speak to disaffected people in the towns of Southern France about Christ. The authorities didn’t quite know what to do with them at first. They represented a challenge to the local church – ‘What are you going to do about these people who are discovering Christ?’ ‘Are you open to the kind of theology that can emerge from pastoral encounters on the street?’ (In fact, they were a lot more attractive than most of the contemporary local churches and clergy.)
In the end, the friars themselves became part of the establishment, though for a time they had revived the Church and made it more sensitive to the needs of the poor and the thirst for a relevant message. Then the process of reformation had to begin all over again …
So are the Street Pastors doing the same for the world and the church as the friars did? i.e preaching the Gospel and using words when they need to; being out there on the streets; challenging the churches to respond? Stirling Street Pastors have certainly made me sit up and think about how we might welcome and nurture someone who has encountered them in the city on a Friday night and wanted to know more about God.
The Street Pastors are thinking about a ‘half-way’ house that is not quite ‘full-on church’, but more than a casual conversation. And they are aware of the danger that this might itself become a new church – but perhaps the responsibility for the outcome belongs as much to the churches as to them.