Pat Allerton became known as the ‘Portable Priest’ during Covid for taking his message out onto the streets of London during lockdown. He has written an accessible book A Pocketful of Hope and I had the chance to ask him about it and his ministry.
IP: During Covid, you become known as the ‘Portable Priest’ in your parish in London. How did that happen, and how has it shaped the writing of the book?
PA: It came about as I was leaving our church building for the final time, realising that we wouldn’t be gathering again for who knew how long! The thought came into my head, ‘what if I just headed to the streets of my parish, playing a well known hymn and leading people in the Lord’s Prayer’, looking to lift spirits and point people to the God who loves them. So that’s what I began to do. I grabbed some speakers and a mic from our church building, selected a beautiful version of Amazing Grace (sung by Judy Collins) on Spotify, and headed to the Portobello Road.
I didn’t know what to expect, so gently introduced myself over the 1K sound system saying that I was their local vicar and was here to lift spirits and bring hope, as well as pointing us to the Good Shepherd who’s overcome the grave and wants to walk with us through this ‘valley of the shadow of death’. So I encouraged people to their windows and doorways, played the song, held a moment’s silence to pray or think of those who were sick, those grieving the loss of loved ones, those working in the NHS and those who were just living in fear and anxiety, then I invited anyone who’d like to to join in saying the Lord’s Prayer with me.
When all was done, I was surprised to hear a ripple of applause that grew and increased with whoops and cheers. Better than rotten tomatoes I thought! But more importantly, I sensed God’s presence and that he was meeting people where they were at. From that day on, I proceeded to head out 64 times in all, visiting streets and hospitals (and a prison) all over London on my hired cargo bike. I’d simply say that my thinking was, ‘if people can’t go to church, maybe church should go to the people’, or a bit of it at least! The media, not having much to write about at the time (!) and looking for good news stories, picked up on what I was up to and so a fair bit of coverage followed. Indeed, it was a reporter who renamed me ‘The Portable Priest’ where before I was ‘The Portobello Priest’ due to my parish being in Notting Hill. Rather an apt rechristening!