It’s 4am on a Saturday night, and while most of the nation sleeps, a team of street chaplains is walking the streets of Bunbury’s entertainment district, making sure that people celebrate safely and get home in one piece.
The Bunbury Street Chaplains exist to “protect the safety and the dignity of those who are in distress and provide a bit of gentle guidance to keep people safe and well,” says Tim Wheeldon, director of the programme.
“We’re not out there to stop people drinking, we recognise they’re going to do that – and I do enjoy a drink myself from time to time,” says Wheeldon, “but we can’t delude ourselves and wish people didn’t [drink to excess]; we know that they are going to. We want to make sure people enjoy their night out, so they can be free of concern about their wellbeing.”
“Oftentimes we end up spending a lot of time with someone who’s distressed.”
Wheeldon says it is his “heart’s cry that the church needs to get out of the church and into the street. It’s a matter of showing the love of God and care in a practical way.”
And so, from around 10.30pm on Friday and Saturday nights, until around 4-5am, a team of street chaplains will hit the entertainment district in Bunbury, handing out water bottles, vomit bags, blankets and thongs, and often administering first aid to people in need.
One Adelaide team leader said they saw a Green Team volunteer “wiping vomit off some girl’s face, while the girl was crying on her shoulder simultaneously thanking her and apologising.
“We’ll spend the night chatting to people, giving them something to drink, helping them get to a taxi or call home if they need to get home. Oftentimes we end up spending a lot of time with someone who’s distressed,” says Wheeldon.
It’s not the only programme of its kind: there are similar projects in the Perth CBD and on Adelaide’s Hindley Street.
Encounter Youth’s Green Team take to Hindley St in central Adelaide on Friday and Saturday nights to care for vulnerable young people. One Adelaide team leader said they saw a Green Team volunteer “wiping vomit off some girl’s face, while the girl was crying on her shoulder simultaneously thanking her and apologising. It was one of the most Jesus-imitating things I’ve seen in my life, because what better way is there to sum up what Jesus does for us?”
“We’re there to show the love of God.”
And when they have sobered up the next day, those who have been helped by the Green Team will often send a Facebook message of thanks, like this one: “Thank you sosososo much for everything you guys did for me on Saturday night. I literally don’t remember a thing but when my friends told me they found me being looked after by a group wearing green I knew exactly who you were! I seriously don’t know what would have happened to me if you weren’t there.”
The Green Team aren’t shy about their motivation for being out there: they are Christians who want to show love to people. Sometimes that opens up conversations about Jesus and Christianity, but that is not the primary aim of the Green Team. They just want to meet people where they are at, and support them at a time when they are vulnerable.
It’s the same in Bunbury. Wheeldon says, “We don’t resile from being Christians, and that’s why we are there: we’re there to show the love of God. But we are not there to preach. Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners, so that’s just what we’re trying to be. If you’re going to be a Good Samaritan that means caring for people that you would otherwise not,” says Wheeldon.
“It really excites me to see people from different kinds of churches encouraging one another and being out there on mission together in the community, I see that encouraging them and they take that back to their churches and it encourages their churches. It’s a win-win.”More