Open Air: A Lot To Like

What? Get a job? You cheeky rascal! “I’m retired, sir! And I had a job for longer than you’ve been alive!” I try to sound indignant, but I’m smiling on the inside: if I look young enough to take up full-time employment, then the tablets must be working…

There was a lot to like about our last Open Air. Here are Stephen’s recollections.

Last Wednesday went reasonably well. We gave away just the one bible. When it came to tracting, after a while I moved to the prime spot by the shops since Avram and Kieran had my usual spot well covered. I didn't find it as easy to hand out a huge number of tracts by the shops, as I used to do; perhaps I am a little out of practice. Nevertheless, 73 tracts is a reasonable number.

I had 2 longer conversations. The first was with an older chap over by the shops. He said that he is a believer and offered some words of encouragement. However, he seemed to be suffering from bitterness following a divorce many years ago. He took a tract and a chapel leaflet. The second conversation was close to the end with an older Muslim man who had been interrupting Robert. He was decrying the sins of others and rather ranting about it but appeared to be satisfied with his own righteousness. Nevertheless, he took a copy of both “The Story of Farouq” and “The Real Jesus”.

I’m in shirt sleeves for the first time this year, since the sky is blue and the sun is shining. We’ve prayed, and Peter is making his way over to the shop fronts; Stephen stands by to begin speaking and Avram is off to my left. Avram? Well, he said he was wondering where he could find some street preachers in Manchester, and here we are. We’ve talked for a while, and now he has a tract envelope and an invitation to stand with us.

Stephen begins. I take my position to his right. Avram is checking the booklets and tracts in his envelope; then he looks at Stephen, then he looks at me, then he tracts for a time, and then he reads a little more. Is he weighing us up? Very wise, I’d say.

A blue van moves slowly through the passing throng, although it isn’t quite as busy as usual. Stephen has two listeners standing near Superdrug, but that’s about it. A burly, bearded fellow with a pair of earphones on strolls past, singing along to something that no one else can hear. Time passes, tracts go out - but it’s still as though we’re just warming up, along with the weather.

Avram comes across. He’s found a copy of John Blanchard’s “Does Atheism Make Sense?” in his envelope. Can he have it for himself? Certainly! I tell him a little more about who is here and what we’re doing. When Stephen says we have bibles to give away, he wants one of those as well.

Time passes, the tracts start flying out, Kieran arrives, we talk, and then I need to go over and get some items from Avram’s envelope, which is really my reserve one. Kieran dons his jacket and joins Avram, while I talk with a young Asian man. It’s just for a few minutes, but he leaves with a copy of “Ultimate Questions”. That’s good! I write a little memo to myself, resting my reporter’s notebook on the junction box. I don’t see the young man in the olive puffer jacket, blue jeans and stylish running shoes who is hovering nearby, but the GoPro does. He realises that I’m busy and goes over to Kieran and Avram. They’re happy to talk to him.

When he leaves them, his place is taken by a bearded gent, dark of countenance and clothing, and conversation continues. I’m all out of tracts, so I have to beg some from Peter, who is busy as per usual. And then, in a while, it’s my turn to speak.

Preliminaries over, I remark on the sad state of an empty store nearby, then the decline of town centre shopping, and thus to four places in my own home town that stand together and are still open for business: a florist, a funeral parlour, a cemetery and a crematorium… You can take it from there, I’m sure.

Stephen passes a tract to a portly gent all in black except for a blue baseball cap and a beige gilet. He leans against a lamppost and reads them and listens to me. The sun slips behind a cloud and I’m interrupted as recounted above; and then a blue and yellow police car crawls slowly round the corner, stops for a moment to see that all is well, and then resumes its slow progress up towards the station. I note that Kieran and Avram stroll around to hand out their tracts, rather than remaining stationary as Stephen and I do. Perhaps it’s something to do with being of the Reformed Persuasion…

It’s still not as busy as usual; but, no matter, conversations are under way. Kieran deals with a man in a blue anorak, and I am approached by a middle-aged gent, his generous embonpoint straining the fabric of his shirt front. He has a medical mask on, but he raises it for a moment to address me. I offer him a bible, but he has a question, so I point out Kieran and Avram and Stephen and Peter and ask him to talk to one of them. Perversely, he asks me, instead, but he’s lowered his mask and is mumbling through it so I’ve no idea what he’s saying. Eventually, off he goes, to be intercepted by Stephen. Someone goes by at a trot, and swears at me just as he’s ducking around the corner and out of sight. I remark on it as yet another instance of the sin problem in the human heart, and - well, you can take it from there, I’m sure.

It isn’t a great day for listeners, but the number of serious conversations going on more than makes up for that. As I approach the last lap, up dashes a man from the direction of Debenhams (as was).

He has an oversized, tweed bucket hat pulled down over his head, his coat collar is up, and he’s wearing dark glasses, so that very little of his face is visible: perhaps he’s a celebrity travelling incognito, or a secret agent on a mission… but, whoever he is, I ask him to wait a moment, since Kieran and Avram are both heading in his direction. He seems quite excited by this, and dashes off, then dashes back, then trots away again. “What was that all about?” I wonder.

As I come to a close, Avram is speaking to a lady in a sari and headscarf, and Kieran is moving towards a couple of hefty blokes, one all in black, the other similarly attired, with the addition of a red sweatshirt. He must know the one all in black, since he shakes hands with him. As I come to my final text, “I am the resurrection and the life…”, the lady in the sari leaves Avram, and is immediately replaced by a young man with black hair and clothes and a rucksack to match.

I’m done, Stephen returns, Peter and Brendan join us for prayer, then we invite Kieran and Avram to join us for refreshments. No, they want to stay and carry on their respective conversations. That’s good! However, it means that I can’t tell you much about what was said. Perhaps I’ll get an update next week. We’ll see.

If you’ve read thus far, well, why not pray for any - or all - of the folk mentioned above? There was indeed a lot to like about that afternoon; but unless Open Airs are underpinned by the prayers of God’s people, then it’s unlikely that they will ever achieve anything of lasting value. You can join us in person next Wednesday, at 12.30pm in the usual place; but, if not, please pray for us instead.

Many thanks, and every blessing.