Open Air: The Angels Tell Me

There’s no peace for the wicked

They say, no peace for the wicked,

Loud and clear, no peace for the wicked,

The angels tell me…

No Peace For The Wicked.   The Only Ones.

Indeed, we are the only ones at first, and who can blame folk for not rushing out to an Open Air on a day of grey cloud and intermittent rain? We decide to do two by two again: Stephen goes first and I take up my position on his right. It’s a slow start and - oh, hang on, Stephen has just emailed me with a few words about last Wednesday. I’ll put them in at this point.

Tracting went fairly well considering the weather conditions. As usual, I didn't do very well at striking up conversations. However, I did have a long talk with a man called Y. He is a believer. He and his wife have recently moved from Preston to Manchester. They have been going to the Audacious church but are looking for a good church, so readers could perhaps pray for them.

I survey the scene: Greggs has gone, and in its place is Zambrero, specialising in Mexican cuisine. There is a queue for the Halifax cash machines, so people must be spending money; but, it isn’t as busy as usual, and many of those who have ventured out are in wet weather gear or have their umbrellas up. There are prams and scooters and cycles and…

- and here comes Janette, lightly clad, but wearing a hat with a brim broad enough to shelter under. We chat for a moment, and then she takes a bundle of tracts and stations herself outside Superdrug. Stephen is picking up the pace as a young man passes, mouthing off. As he goes by me, I advise him to hold his peace. This seems to annoy him. Just as I’m handing a tract to a woman, he runs back and makes a grab for my hat!

Needless to say, he’s nowhere near quick enough. I block his arm and immobilise him. Hmm… No need to overreact. Let’s make sure we’re in the GoPro’s field of view. I step back several paces, which means he has to follow me. He seems to have lost all interest in my hat, but he doesn’t hold back on abuse. I decide to release him - and he tries to grab the tract envelope from my hand! Stupid is as stupid does… I suppose his idea is to run off with it and taunt me with it at a safe distance: but, once again, he’s way too slow to be able to take it. And so he departs, fuming, foul-mouthed, and frustrated.

Meanwhile, the wind is getting up, and the first few autumn leaves are blowing across the pavement. Stephen invites folk to take one of our free bibles and I don my head mic. Ironically, I have to remove my hat to do so, since I can’t hear myself properly otherwise… “No Peter! Most unusual!” I say. Just then, Kieran makes an appearance. We’re pleased to see him. I tell him he should have been here earlier, he’s missed all the excitement.

And then I begin. “Well, a few moments ago, a young man tried to steal my hat. Now, if anyone is cold and desperate to have a hat, you don’t need to steal it! All you have to do is to ask politely, and I’ll make you a present of it!”

Three young ladies in hoodies are talking together as I speak. I know what they’re doing: they’re daring one another to accost me. Yes, here comes one of them now. She has her hood up, and her sharp, aquiline features are decorated by piercings in various places. “Yes, madam - do you want my hat?” “Er, no…” “I don’t blame you.” What does she want? Ah, she wants to play the game that I know so well: “épater les bourgeois”. Pity I’m not one, even if she thinks I am.

She tells me that she’s had sex before marriage and that she’s comfortable with gay and trans people and that… I stifle a yawn. “Why are you telling me?” “Er, I thought I’d share my opinions with you, just like you’re doing here…” “Well, I’d say…” But since I’m not amusing her by being shocked to my very core, she decides not to continue with our conversation, walking away while I’m still speaking.

I catch Stephen’s eye. I call after her: “This gentleman” (pointing to Stephen) “wants to give you a leaflet before you go!” And she takes one. She owes me that much, at least…

I begin again, on the nature of true friendship. Stephen straightens our poster, and I notice that folk are out and about in sports clothes now - some in shorts! Our postman says he wears them in wet weather because bare legs dry more quickly than trousers. As I get to “He is a friend worth a fortune, His is a love that money can’t buy”, Peter arrives, his bright yellow text boards already in place. He talks to Stephen while I discuss the nature of true faith, then takes up his usual position in front of McDonald’s. A tall man in a black anorak takes a tract from Stephen. He walks away examining it, then returns to talk to him.

It’s hard to tell who’s listening to me and who’s just sheltering by the shops - as with the several folk standing nearby under their umbrellas. I press on, regardless. Kieran has been with Janette for a while, but now he’s off, his big rucksack - filled with tracts, we trust - on his back. I’m due to hand over, but I want to give a gospel outline before I end, so I hurry on; the wind picks up, blowing leaves and litter around my feet.

I’ve just taken up my tract envelope when I’m accosted by three young ladies, smartly dressed, polite and personable, with a project to tackle. “We’d like to ask you some questions on sustainability.” “Certainly!” I lead them off to one side, out of Stephen’s way. I don’t think there’s any danger of them stealing my hat. I notice that the one recording our encounter on her phone takes a shot of our poster before we begin. That’s good! It only takes a few minutes, and then - quid pro quo - they have to take a tract each. Excellent!

Stephen straightens our poster before he begins, and I note how quickly the tracts are going out as he warms to his theme. Janette needs some more, and Stephen has to stop for a moment because he’s better prepared than the rest of us and he has several bundles in his bag. A plump gent in a black top and long grey shorts, a phone in his hand and a large bottle of soft drink cradled in his arm, calls out: “Can I talk to you guys?” “Just one minute!”

A minute later, and we’re having a pleasant conversation. He’s a Muslim, he says, but he believes that we have things in common. It’s a good start. Two young men have been hanging around, waiting for a heated argument to begin: but they go away disappointed, and he goes away happy with his Blanchard booklet, the popular “Ultimate Questions”.

Meanwhile, a tall, dark cove, in a black and red anorak with the hood up, has wheeled his bike over to the junction box bearing our free bibles. It also bears my Open Air bible, its pages wrinkled and its cover worn. He picks it up and pockets it! Dearie me! Eagle-eyed, Stephen alerts me, and the gent puts it back, so I offer him a new one in return. He waves his hand at Stephen, and speaks in some foreign language, in grating, guttural tones. He points this way and that, babbling incomprehensibly, then wheels his bike away.

Brendan has arrived, and there are a few listeners by the shops as Stephen begins again. The afternoon wears on in peaceful fashion until it’s my turn - but I must needs pause to talk to the grey-haired gent I’ve spoken to several times before. He tells me his drug-addicted son is making progress, with treatment, and he asks us to pray for him once more. I tell him that we will.

I continue on the topic of true forgiveness, as a crop-haired brunette in a blue anorak takes a photo of our poster. We exchange cheerful Christian greetings, and then a curious cove in a bright red fleece appears. He has grey hair and a patriarchal beard which could do with a bit of a trim. One sleeve is up, the other is down, and he claps his hands and makes washing motions with them as I continue. A few more folk gather round, listening attentively, until I mention the strict and severe Law of God, and the Coming Judgement. They don’t like the sound of that, and, one by one, they leave.

An old friend stops for a fist bump - though I thought they’d gone out of fashion - “Victory in Jesus!” he declares. A tall man passes behind me, turns back and says “Your God is not real!” His friend follows him, but then turns back and says “Your God is good, sir!” Well, you pays your money and… I work their comments into my address, ending on a rather sombre note, reminding folk that there will be no excuses accepted on that Last Day - and that there is no peace for the wicked, not only today, but on into eternity.

Carpe diem.

As we pack our things away, the anti-vaxxer protest on Market Street livens up, and a police car parks up across from them. Workmen nearby begin to kick up a racket with power tools, and it’s with some sense of relief that we head away from it all towards the Bagel Factory.

Over the next few days, the refrain from that Peter Perrett song runs through my mind again and again. I doubt that he meant angels as we would understand the word, but…

We’ll be out again next Wednesday, God willing, although we aren’t angels - except in the sense of messengers, of course. Feel free to join us, and if you can’t be there, please pray for the following folk.

The couple looking for a proper church.

The wannabe hat thief.

The girls playing “épater les bourgeois”.

The students with their sustainability project.

The young Muslim who took the Blanchard booklet.

The curious cove who wanted my Open Air bible.

The son still needing help with his addiction.

And, any of the other folk mentioned above, and all those who heard at least a little of the gospel, on that wet and windy Wednesday afternoon last week.

Every blessing.