Open Air: Summer Solstice

Stephen writes as follows.

It was fairly quiet again last Wednesday. A man asked for one of our free bibles and I also gave out about 60-70 tracts. I had one brief conversation with a troubled lady who took a tract and a chapel leaflet. Other items of note were the man who called out during Jack's preaching, "We are living in the last days", and the young lady who passed by with the t-shirt message "See you in hell", though I didn't think it would be wise to chase after her and attempt a conversation.

I’m not sure about “fairly quiet”. See what you think…

It’s a sunny summer’s day here on the edge of Piccadilly Gardens - until the sunshine fades and a summer storm begins, with big drops of rain splattering all around us. I’m setting up our equipment, so I have to huddle in my hoodie and hope it won’t last too long. When it’s over, I wipe off the amp and lay my hoodie on top of the junction box. It’s hot, and the pavements are almost dry by the time Stephen is ready to speak. He’s gone for the sporting look again today, in shorts and shades, and I’m in my usual jeans and shirtsleeves.

He starts off low and slow, as all the best public speaking primers recommend. I’m on his right, thinking about Jason, whom we met earlier: back in this country for a while to take care of pressing family matters. My thoughts are interrupted by two young Muslims passing by, grinning and shouting “Hallelujah!” Stephen ignores them, and rightly so.

It’s not very busy, but there is a steady stream of folk going by. Peter arrives and I cross the pedestrianised area to meet him. He’s already visited a couple of towns before coming to us, as usual. Then I return to tract in the shadow of the big lamppost, since the sun is hot now, and I have no hat.

Here comes a portly, middle-aged man, with thinning hair and wire-framed glasses. He’s wearing a red football shirt, walking with a stick, and he has a question about the Trinity. As we talk, a flatbed lorry backs round behind him, closely followed by a wagon carrying a couple of Portaloos. My answer seems to satisfy him and he departs.

It’s quieter now, and it’s mostly travellers on their way to wherever, with rucksacks on their backs, and suitcases rolling and rattling over the uneven paving. I look over at Peter: his tracts are going well; and then Brendan arrives, in his familiar fisherman’s hat. I wave, but he doesn’t see me. I’m short of chapel leaflets, but Stephen has brought a fresh supply so I help myself, as the Portaloo wagon goes empty on its way.

Who’s this? I’m being accosted by a tall, long-limbed gent, smiling and shaking hands and introducing himself as Pastor C. He has a Sister M. with him, and he’s anxious to encourage us, and then to tell us how difficult it is to hold open airs in London these days. I believe him. He’s wearing a red tee shirt sporting the legend “And On The Sixth Day God Created Man”, and he’s carrying a capacious shoulder bag, in which he searches - in vain - for some information about his own church. It’s a pleasant chat. I give him a copy of our Statement Of Faith to mull over at his leisure.

They go, and I survey the scene once more. Brendan is in conversation with a man in shorts and a red top, and there is a good deal of finger-wagging going on, on both sides. I can’t see Peter, but he must be somewhere around, and - but Stephen is finishing now, and I have to take his place.

I adjust my head mic, wipe my brow, take a drink of fruit juice, pick up my bible, and then take a moment to pray. When I open my eyes, Stephen is finding a bible for a young man in a light grey tracksuit, with long, dark, centre-parted hair and a stubbly beard. That’s good! A tram trundles by, then I’m off, with a description of the middle-aged, middle income, middle class moptops pictured in the morning papers celebrating the summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge.

It catches the attention of a young couple, he in a white shirt with a black sweater draped over his shoulders, she in mannish black top and trousers, sucking at a vape; they enjoy the humour, but, as soon as I turn to serious stuff, they’re away. I check for other listeners, but it’s hard to be sure about the figures by the shops; and the old man with grey hair and a curious, spade-shaped beard, leaning on a lamppost and looking vaguely this way and that, seems too spaced out to be taking anything in.

An olive-skinned, balding bloke in baggy trousers waves at me as he goes by, waggling his fingers and then giving me a thumbs-up. He takes a tract from Stephen, so it must have signified approval. Here comes a man pushing a mobile stall decked out with colourful cuddly toys and mobile phone cases. It has a gigantic green parasol over the top of it - just as well, because it’s coming on to rain again. Two ladies pull their cardigans up over their heads to protect their hair, an umbrella is raised here and there, people begin to hurry along - but it’s just a drizzle, and it peters out after a while. I hardly notice it, since I’m entirely absorbed in the moment, by now.

A girl with black and white stripes in her hair crosses herself, and a man in a black tracksuit forks food into his face, looking fixedly off to one side of me, but listening nevertheless. As I pause for a tram to pass by, he stops eating until I begin again. I’m vaguely aware that someone is filming me on their phone, but I’m so caught up in the gospel message that I don’t notice at the time that it’s our friend Jason, back from his previous business.

Peter and Brendan come over to greet him, and they talk as some random fellow interrupts me with “We’re living in the last days!” without pausing to explain himself at all. I add a brief comment, but I’m already at the end of the last days: “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” I step forward and put my right foot down hard. “And those who will not bow the knee to Jesus Christ in this life will find that when He returns in judgement He will put His foot on their necks!” Yes, I’m borrowing from Dr E. A. Johnston again. Well, why not? It works for me…

Jason starts to do some tracting, and it’s only moments before he’s deep in conversation with a young black man in black jeans and a white sweatshirt. That’s good! As I consider some of the characteristics of the lost, a line of young folk in school uniforms pass by, watched over by several teachers. Talking about being in darkness, I step into the sunshine for a moment: “And yet, even in this bright sunshine, the vast majority of people, young and old, are in spiritual darkness.” And then: “Young people! Is it a school outing?” A female teacher nods and smiles and waves at me. Perhaps it’s a Christian school: it seems to be an admirably orderly affair, by today’s standards. Anyway, I’ve got their attention for a few moments, just long enough to make my next point.

It’s all go. One young man asks for a selfie with me, and if he’s trying to be funny, he’s hiding it very well. Brendan and Jason are deep in conversations, an Asian gent in a checkered shirt leans on a lamppost and listens, Brendan comes to ask for a tract in Arabic but we haven’t any, Jason moves on to another enquirer - a grey-haired woman in a lime green jacket - and so on and so forth. I’m circling back to the summer solstice at Stonehenge, to close on the entire lack of enlightenment involved therein, and then tomorrow being on its way, with age, illness, death and judgement, and I’m feeling quite emotional by the time I get to my final illustration: “He’s with me!”

But I’m brought back down to earth as a gent who has been consulting his phone for a while steps up closer. Still keeping at a safe distance, he calls out. “Oo, what if you end up before Allah?” He sounds like a camp character in a Carry On film. I look him over as I ask him to repeat himself, since I can’t see what his question has to do with what I’ve just said. He has untidy grey hair, glasses, and he’s wearing a shiny blue waterproof over a dark suit, white shirt and tie. He looks like a General Studies lecturer escaping from a College of F. E. over lunchtime, so that he doesn’t have to sit in the Staff Room and be made fun of by his colleagues. Instead, he wants to make fun of me.

I am not amused. I tell him to come back next week, to stand still and listen to what’s being said, and then ask questions, rather than just shooting his mouth off. “Oo-er, I’ve got to make a living!” he says, and he takes himself off more quickly than he came. As if to make up for this time-waster, a young man in an open-necked shirt and dark trousers, his lunch in his hand, takes a tract from Stephen. He goes from standing to sitting cross-legged on the pavement in one fluid movement, and reads the tract as he eats and listens to me. When he looks up, I nod to him and he nods back and smiles. I was going to close, but now I feel obliged to say just a little more, for his benefit.

When I’ve finished, I am moved to pray out loud for those who have passed by that afternoon, so I do. No one seems to mind, and it works for me. We pack up, but before I put my tract envelopes away, I find a Blanchard booklet for the young man sitting on the ground. “Bet you can’t get into a full lotus from there,” I say. “Bet I can!” he replies, but he doesn’t attempt it. I don’t blame him: the pavement is far too hard for that sort of pose. A few more words, and he’s happy to take the booklet - and that makes me happy, too.

We finish packing up and we pray, and we adjourn to the Bagel Factory, leaving Jason still talking to an earnest enquirer. That’s good! Please pray for that man, if the Lord puts it upon your heart to do so, and also for one or more of those mentioned above. Please pray also for… [Prayer requests omitted, since they sometimes contain personal/sensitive information. Believers who wish to read the newsletter in full, please contact our pastor.] We will be there again next Wednesday, so, as usual, please join us if you can, and pray for the afternoon if you can’t be there in person.

Every blessing!