Open Air: Lay Down The Hours

You lay down the hours

And leave not one trace…

Sweet Is The Melody.    Iris DeMent.

We were sadly hampered by the rain which persisted throughout the outreach session. It wasn't bad enough to cause us to seek prolonged shelter but it did gradually soak us. I gave out fewer tracts than normal, probably on account of the rain. Nevertheless, the Lord may use those that were taken. I only had two conversations.

The first was rather negative with a man of about my age. My main concern was to get him to stop jabbing his finger close to my face and poking me in the chest. Every time I stepped back he stepped forward. The smell of alcoholic drink was also somewhat overpowering. He claimed to be a Roman Catholic but he does not believe that Jesus will return.

The second conversation came quite close to the end of the session when I was wet and getting rather dispirited. A young lady took a tract then told me that she is a Christian. Her name is A. and her church is Union Hall Evangelical Church. I told her that I had visited that church a few times in my youth. She mentioned that she knew of Roger Carswell (whose tract she had taken) and Yorkshire Camps (whose hoodie I was wearing). She said that she had often seen Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses doing outreach in the city centre and she had been wondering where the Christians were. Anyway, she was a lovely young lady and her encouraging words at just the right time cheered me up no end.

Well might she wonder! But there are a few of us here today, despite the rain that shows no sign of easing off, thus far.

Stephen is speaking, I’m on his right, and Janette is over by Zambrero. The skies are grey, and all that colourful summer clothing has been put back into the wardrobe, to be replaced by dull, wet weather gear, with matching hoods, hats, and umbrellas. Even I’ve got a hat on - that black, woolly one that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s wet already, and my combat jacket is soaking up the water so fast that it must weigh twice as much as when I put it on.

Not to worry. Here comes a young man going against the trend: his jacket is black, but he’s got a lilac track suit underneath it! And those bright, white Nikes - how does he keep them so clean? He takes a tract, says he likes what we’re doing, and encourages us to keep going. That’s good!

There are raindrops running down the lens of the GoPro, but, as I review the video, days later, I can still see that Stephen’s notes are wilting visibly, until by the time he transfers the top sheet to his anorak pocket, it’s fit for little more than making papier mâché models…

And now I’m talking to someone with their hood up over long blond(e) hair, someone wearing a lilac shirt under a dark green anorak. Unfortunately, Stephen’s rucksack is resting on the junction box, and it’s hiding the rest of him/her and all of me from the GoPro. No, without a clear view of the speaker, I can’t recall our conversation, alas. A moment later, and I’m walking over to two young men who are smiling at Stephen, smiling across at me, then smiling at each other. Would they like a tract? They shake their heads, and smile at each other again. Hmm. Ah well…

Janette moves over in front of Superdrug, where there is a little more shelter. Stephen presses on, and Peter arrives. I greet him, then he’s off to his usual place outside McDonald’s. Then it’s more rain, umbrellas, bikes, trams, horns, shopping trolleys, chatter, traffic noise, scooters, mothers pushing prams - and more rain. A plump lady in a tight black anorak, her bouffant blonde hair spilling out from under a black baseball cap, wanders up and asks for a tract. She stops to listen to Stephen for a few minutes, as she eats crisps from a packet that would last me for four or five evenings.

She moves on, as a wet and dishevelled young man arrives, all in black except for his canvas trainers, which are lilac with red laces… Hmm. Lilac accessories seem to be all the rage today, but I don’t think I’ll be following that particular fashion. But the tracts are going well, and it’s time to get my reserve envelope.

As I shake the raindrops from it, the young man in black calls to me. “Pound coin!” “Sorry?” “Pound coin! Need pound coin!” I shake my head. He mumbles something which I can’t quite catch - fortunately.

As another tram rounds the corner close by, Stephen concludes and calls me over. I wipe the rain from my glasses, take a drink, manoeuvre my head mic into position, pick up my bible, and pray. Then, off we go. I mention the serious situation unfolding in the Middle East, but only to remind folk that this life of ours on earth is brief, fragile, and fraught with danger and distress - and that a better tomorrow is not what awaits those who turn away from the truth of the gospel.

Time seems to slow down from now on. I’m speaking slowly and deliberately, improvising more than I usually do, so that I don’t have to consult my notes too often. People come and go, including a dark young man, his cropped hair shining wet with rain, in a lilac jacket and tight black jeans. Lilac again! Phone in hand, he hurries by - then: “God’s blessing on you!” Well, that’s good! I thank him and carry on. A frowning gent stands in front of our poster, and attempts to puff out his chest, but only his abdomen expands. He harrumphs and exits stage left.

Stephen seeks shelter for a while, and then comes back again. I overhear a couple of critical comments, but I work them into what I’m saying. Stephen looks at his watch - but then his attention is taken up by a young woman. (See above.) And now, here comes a man of about my size, but with a silly little moustache, under a big black umbrella, dressed in black again, except for - good grief, lilac and pink trainers! It’s a baffler! He swaggers up and tells me to turn off the speaker “so we can talk.” “Not if I can help it,” I think. “Could my friend not answer your questions for you?”

Fortunately (for me) he sees Stephen and struts over to him instead. I carry on. I glance at the two of them from time to time. Stephen wears the expression of a man who has found a dead cat in his backyard and is wondering how he can best dispose of it. Eventually, an acquaintance strolls up and greets the man, and takes him away. I bet Stephen is pleased… and…

And that’s about as exciting as it got. No high drama, no crowds around us, no cries of “Hallelujah, I’ve seen the light!” Just another afternoon of slow and steady preaching and talking and tracting in the rain, and then a time of fellowship and a hot drink, and then we were on our way home.

If the idea of open air preaching is relatively new to you, you might be wondering whether it was time well spent.

Let’s go over to YouTube. I’ll type in “Sweet Is The Melody.” Yes, there it is, the first video in the list, from “Transatlantic Sessions, Series One.” Let’s listen for a minute or two. No, don’t close your eyes, you’ll miss the expressions on the faces of the musicians.

Any more questions? I wouldn’t have thought so.

Well, there you go, as Miss Pilling so often said, in those dim and distant days; and what would have become of me, I wonder, without those long and languorous afternoons in the Basement Book Room, and those enchanted evenings on the Out Counter? I certainly wouldn’t be here today and writing this for you, would I? Isaiah 55.8-11.

We’ll be out again next Wednesday, God willing, and the forecast is fine, at least it is as I write. Join us if you can, and please pray for us if our Lord puts it upon your heart to do so. Please pray too, for one or more of those mentioned above, and also for the following (some from the previous week).

The man in the Bagel Factory, whose friend was a friend of the owner of the best fish and chip shop in my home town. He took a copy of John Blanchard’s “Why On Earth Did Jesus Come?” and promised to read it.

J., a former Strangeways chaplain, who stood with Peter to give out tracts.

The African Muslim to whom Peter spoke.

C., an Indian woman to whom Peter spoke, that her spiritual life might be more blessed.

[Some prayer requests and a few other items have been omitted here, since they contain personal/sensitive information. Christian folk who would like to receive the newsletter in full can contact Stephen or our pastor with their email address, if they so wish.]

Every blessing!