Church Army Evangelist Syd Henderson is based at the St Francis' Community Centre in Hinckley, a town almost in the middle of the Birmingham-Leicester-Coventry triangle. He describes it as a small commuter town, “with a lot of heart, and a lot of brilliant people”, including many youngsters who have “the potential to do more than many would give them credit for”.
Part of Syd's role is to run a youth club, giving dozens of children access to sports, a pool table, computer games and the internet. The club also has a healthy food tuck shop, which stocks Fairtrade products and provides free drinks.
The enthusiastic youngsters at the club express particular preferences for “playing football and hockey”, “using the computer” and “hot chocolate”.
From late evening until early morning, Syd becomes a Street Pastor, leading a team that works in partnership with the council, the police, churches and the Elements nightclub.
In partnership with the nightclub, the Street Pastors help to run 'Baby Elements' – a regular night for under-18s, where they can get the experience of a nightclub atmosphere without alcohol.
If they are shown that everyone can have a good night out without resorting to alcohol – and without any resulting trouble – they will know what to expect (and avoid) once they are officially old enough to enter a nightclub.
Outside the club, Syd and the other Street Pastors are available throughout the night as a listening ear for young people needing someone to talk to, and a helping hand for those on their way home.
The combination of Baby Elements and the regular presence of Street Pastors has drawn praise from the authorities. PC Clive Clarke, Beat Officer for Hinckley town centre, says that Syd's work is “tireless” and that he is “a friend to the young people”, many of whom now recognise him on sight.
Similarly, local Council Leader David Brill talks in terms of the “tremendous impact of Street Pastors” and how “the level of crime has been reduced, giving an increased level of reassurance that people feel whenever they're in the town centre in the evenings.”
For Syd, there is a direct spiritual connection between his faith and his role on the streets. He describes Jesus as being the first Street Pastor, because he and his disciples went out and talked to people where they were.
He says: “We have a good rapport with young people because they see we're there just for them. We're here to get them to a taxi, and make sure they get home, or if they've drunk too much get them something to eat.”
The Street Pastors spend much of their time in general conversation, where a wide range of subjects arise, provoking debate and bringing forth questions.
Syd sees his role as a Church Army Evangelist as offering hope to people, whether they've lost their job, experienced relationship or family problems, or are just looking for answers to the many complex questions that come from being a teenager.
Syd's ministry has won widespread praise. The Hinckley Rotary Club awarded him a Paul Harris Fellowship Award – its highest honour – in recognition for service to the community.
“I received the award with surprise and shock,” said Syd, “as I had no idea it would be anything other than a donation. I am honoured to receive such a prestigious award.
“I mentioned that both the St Francis Community Centre and Street Pastors are team efforts and I receive the award on behalf of the teams.”
Greg Drodz, Rotary President, has observed the change in the community due to Syd's leadership, and mentioned Street Pastors' influence in the town centre.
He said: “Although Syd works as part of a team, his example has changed the face of the community around the Centre, and changed public perception of young people as well as a lasting change to the town itself.”
So when you go to bed tonight, remember that Syd and the team are probably just beginning their shift on the streets of Hinckley – and please say a prayer for them. Their dedication to be in the middle of town in all weathers is helping to transform young lives, in the midnight hour.
To support Church Army Evangelists like Syd call 0300 123 2113 or head for www.churcharmy.org.uk
Or find other articles on a similar theme using our search box at the top of the page.