Manchester church workers aim to take on local gun crime

By staff writers
August 11, 2007

Church leaders in Manchester are calling a consultation meeting with community leaders and other agencies to discuss what many see as a worrying growth of gun crime in the region.

The exchange is due to take place next week with participants from three of the most affected areas in Greater Manchester - Hulme, Moss Side and Whalley.

The Anglican Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, who has announced the initiative, will also chair the gatherng and has been speaking with the local media as well as law enforcement officers and community groups.

Leaders from more than a dozen Anglican parishes will attend the crunch meeting, although Bishop McCulloch has used the event to also call for stronger links with other churches to tackle the violent culture increasingly impacting the area.

Speaking from a Church of England perspective, he declared: “There has been a considerable amount of co-operation. But we do need to have a closer contact with the other churches."

The concern among local residents is that armed violence is becoming a 'normalised' part of the culture, with arguments and gang rivalries being more likely to spill over into outright aggression.

“It seems young people feel the only way they will get respect is by carrying a gun. We can't allow this situation to carry on. We have to see how we can challenge that culture”, the bishop commented.

The initiative will seek to identify who has the most fruitful links in sections of the community most impacted by gun crime, and related issues like knife use.

Bishop McCulloch said that local Pentecostal churches were particularly effective in their endeavours within the African-Caribbean communities.

The Street Pastor movement in different parts of the country - where streetwise operators seek direct contact wih those caught up in violence, to seek to persuade them out of crime, is one of the models being considered.

But anti-gun workers say that the traditional church is viewed with scorn, scepticism and sometimes hostility. And they urge Christians and other faith groups not to get involved unless they can "follow through" in terms of commitment.

Former gang member-turned street pastor Tony Winter told the Manchester Evening News that first-hand experience was what gave him and other Street Pastor volunteers a credibility which other church workers might lack.

inter explained: "Many people find it hard to trust anyone they consider part of the establishment and they consider the church to be part of that."

He continued: "Although we have been treated with suspicion, we have got over it because people know we are not the police. Many of our volunteers live and come from the same estates and many have had colourful pasts."

The paer reports that Mr Winter now leads about 60 anti-gun crime workers in the Gorton, Longsight and Moss Side areas, working to turn young people away from guns, drugs and crime - and helping build a culture of communication and respect.

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