By Andrew Woodger
Town Pastors in Ipswich said they usually encounter only high spirits
More and more of Suffolk's towns are getting Town Pastor teams on patrol on weekend evenings.
The Christian groups aim to help people who are too drunk and try and calm down any trouble in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket.
They work alongside the police, who welcome them as an alternative to officers in uniform.
The pastors claim that prayer before they go out reduces violence and deals with incidents when they happen.
The Town Pastors are drawn from Christian denominations who volunteer to walk the streets at night offering help, advice, bars of chocolate, bottles of water or just a chat about what they're doing.
Steve Jay is from Orwell Church in Ipswich: "The police wanted a friendly-face out on the streets with them when they started a zero-tolerance campaign.
The pastors carry chocolates and bottles of water to hand out
"Basically it's to care for people on the street who're vulnerable, people who need help getting a taxi home, present a quietening influence to things if they're kicking-off. If we need help, we call the police.
"We do it because we want to show that we care for people.
"We believe it's what Jesus would have done - out on the streets where people are at."
Inebriated in Ipswich
In Ipswich, every Friday and Saturday there is usually a team of six who walk around in mixed-sex pairs from 10pm until they feel things have gone quiet.
There is also a team back at the Christian Youth Ministries (CYM) base which stays in touch via walkie-talkies and prays for peace.
"Once on Upper Brook Street a guy got stabbed near the snooker hall," said Steve Jay.
"He managed to stagger out of an alleyway and saw the Town Pastors near Ollie's.
"He recovered but was in intensive care for a long time. Without that instant call for paramedics he wouldn't be around.
"But most of the time, it's just people having lively banter."
Partners in crime
Keeping an eye on things in Tacket Street was police chief inspector Matthew Rose: "I think we complement each other very well.
"They're an extra pair of eyes out on the streets.
"If we have someone who's a bit worse for drink, we can call the Town Pastors and not have to tie up a police officer.
Ch Insp Matthew Rose outside Fire & Ice nightclub and bar
"Drugs have got a lot to answer for. I come across people who you think are drunk, but they behave in such an odd way that I wonder whether they've taken any other substances.
"Certainly in Ipswich we are winning the war on drugs, but they are available and they are cheap, unfortunately."
The power of prayer
At the CYM base, the team has a group prayer at the start of the night.
While the Pastors are out, those who stay behind pray when specific incidents occur.
Mark Firmin, of the Bridge Community Church (based at Gusford Primary School in Chantry) acts as a team leader:
"God wants to involve us in the detail. Although we do a blanket prayer at the start, which has an effect, that's not to say nothing else will happen that night.
"People on the streets have free choice and freewill and God's not going to intervene in those choices such as drinking too much or being abusive or violent.
"But when we see that starting to affect other people, we can pray and God will help in those situations.
"God wants to involve us in the detail.
Mark Firmin at the CYM office where a team prays for peace
"It doesn't fix everything all the time, but I think it does make the streets more peaceful generally.
"You get used to seeing people who are drunk.
"It's quite saddening to see the numbers of people who're just so off their face they don't know what they're doing and making poor choices and not able to take responsibility for themselves.
"We're not out there to lead people's lives for them, but we can stop them coming to harm when they're in that vulnerable place."
The final word should perhaps go to one young man in Ipswich who gave this glowing review of the service the Pastors provide:
"One time I got bottled and these people, out of the goodness of their hearts, helped me through the situation.
"All they wanted was a thank you - they deserve a medal. My taxes should go towards people like this."