Open Air: Silver Scrapes

Like lesser birds on the four winds,

Like silver scrapes in May…

Astronomy.    (Blue Öyster Cult.)

It’s an odd feeling, isn’t it? You walk out of the house on a morning in May: the sky is cobalt blue and the sun is shining, but there is an unwonted chill in the air. You turn to close the door, and there are fronds of frost on its painted panels. You shake your head and walk towards your car: its windscreen has an opaque and silvery sheen upon it. Surely you won’t have to go back inside and get the de-icer? The cold strikes through your thin coat. Has the world slipped back into the past while you were asleep? Have we gone back to winter? You run your fingernails through the frost on the glass to test its thickness. Silver scrapes in May? It isn’t the right time at all. It’s very odd!

And so it must seem to some, as they round the corner of a busy street in their town or city to be confronted by an open air preacher. Perhaps he’s standing on a box or a small stepladder, or on a low wall, or on the pavement itself (much more sensible, I’d say). He may have helpers, or he may be entirely alone. He may have a sign by his side or on a nearby lamppost, proclaiming some message, perhaps in old-fashioned English. He may have an amplifier - a tiny ten-watt affair or a massive hundred-watt Marshall - or he may simply be shouting at the top of his voice over the roar of the traffic.

But what on earth is he on about? Something to do with the bible? Does he think that people want religion pushing down their throats when they’re trying to go about their business in peace? He’s entitled to his own views, but why doesn’t he keep them to himself, or stick to preaching to like-minded folk in the church of his choice? This sort of thing might have been acceptable in an earlier age, but not today. Street preaching in the twenty-first century? It isn’t the right time at all. It’s very odd!

What I think is odd is the fact that this “it isn’t for today” attitude permeates the culture of the contemporary Christian Church. And even in evangelical circles, the trend is still to look inwards, more and more “come in and listen” and less and less “go out and tell”. The overall effect of several sermons that I’ve heard recently has undoubtedly been to encourage the “it’s all over bar the Mark of the Beast, so let’s sing a few hymns and huddle in the ghetto until we’re raptured right out of this wicked world” mindset.

I confess: once upon a time, I might well have agreed. After all, it’s much more comfortable to keep a pew warm a couple of times a week, and to talk only to some few agreeable folk who share my faith, than it is to go abroad and get into trouble.

And then I ask myself, “So, why now? Why, at this later stage in my life, would I want to be out in the street, doing regular Open Airs in all kinds of weather?”

The untheological answer is as follows: once I’d seen it done, I wondered why I’d never thought of doing it myself; and then I wondered why most churches confined themselves to working within their own four walls; and then I wondered why I was happy to support missionaries in far-off foreign parts, and yet I was content to ignore the needs of my own neighbours.

And I also confess that I enjoy myself in the open air. Do I like the sound of my own voice, pontificating on this or that, even if no one passing by wants to know what I think? No, not really: whenever I listen to myself at length, as I often have to do, I’m mortified by the mistakes I’ve made in what I’ve said and in the way that I’ve said it.

But then I think of all the tracts and leaflets and bibles that have gone out, and of the conversations that have been had, and of the way in which the whole business of an Open Air turns people’s attention to the fact that there is a God in heaven and that what He says to man is what really matters in this world and the next… And then, despite any opposition that we’ve encountered, despite any abuse that we’ve had to endure - I am indeed happy.

I was pleased to be present in Manchester last week, when the weather stayed fine, and the only negative reaction I experienced was from a tall, elderly man with a mop of grey hair. Before I’d said more than a sentence, he began to accuse me of accusing him of abusing me, loudly and at length. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

Looking at the various badges on his jacket as he ranted on, I concluded that he was just an unreconstructed old Trot who couldn’t understand why he and his comrades hadn’t been swept into power on the tide of popular acclaim long ago. Then, off to the Re-education Camps for the likes of us!

And then he was gone - but not forgotten, because he nevertheless needs my prayers. If you would like to weigh in with yours, might I ask you to remember the following folk as well?

W., who was pleased to receive a bible and a booklet.

The ex-Salvation Army member who was now homeless.

The Indian pastor, converted from Catholicism, who joined us and gave out tracts.

J., at the moment without employment, through no fault of her own.

All those who heard a little of the gospel, or took literature of one sort or another (hundreds of them, in fact), on that warm Wednesday afternoon last week.

Feel free to join us if the Lord puts it upon your heart to do so. Perhaps it will do you good - I can testify to the fact that these afternoons have been a blessing to Stephen and to me, and to those who have come along so faithfully to help out.

If you can’t join us, please lift us up in prayer.

Silver scrapes of frost in May might be out of season - but what was Paul’s charge to Timothy? “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” It’s well worth reading on from there in 2 Timothy 4.1. It’s a good reminder.

Every blessing!