Open Air: Under A Slate-Grey Sky

It’s a grey day: above us, a slate-grey sky; in front of us, a grey pavement; on our left, the grubby, grey facades of the shops - and all too many pale, grey faces amongst the people passing by. Well, what does Paul say? “… preach the word; be ready in season and out of season”. In or out of context, that’s good enough for me.

We’re looking towards the food stalls and the station today, since our usual place has been taken over by technicians. We’ve tucked ourselves into the space between the large lamppost and the corner of the Air Quality Monitoring Station. It isn’t ideal, but we’re fairly flexible on these Open Air afternoons.

At the moment, a gent in an olive-green, quilted anorak is addressing us on the subject of the sad decline of the nation. I leave him talking to Peter, since it’s time for me to tract, and Stephen is getting under way. I survey the scene, noticing that it isn’t as busy as usual - but who can blame folk for not wanting to come out in this cold weather?

I’m on Stephen’s left, off camera, but the GoPro picks up scraps of conversation as some of those who take tracts stop to talk. Is anyone listening to the preaching? Certainly, some of those queuing for food can hear Stephen, and they turn their faces towards him from time to time. Then there are those standing by the big, cast-iron planters eating their meals: a couple of them are paying attention. I look beyond them to the stark outlines of trees and statues, watching the grey pigeons leaving their perches, circling, swooping, and returning. A tram squeals round the bend, obscuring my view and sending the birds skywards.

The tracts are going out in good numbers. As they’re taken, I usually add: “Thank-you! God bless you!” It’s surprising how often it evokes an amicable response. “How long has it been since they heard those words?” I wonder.

Time passes, and Stephen comes to a close. “My friend will now come and share his wisdom with us.” “That won’t take long, will it?” I reply. I tell him how well the tracts have gone out; I take a drink, and adjust my head mic - and here comes Solomon, looking fit and well, and as cheerful as ever. He can’t stay today, he says, but he hopes to be with us next week. Excellent!

Stephen pulls on his gloves, ready to take my place. I notice that my fingers and toes are numb, so I do an impression of Esther, who has just learned how to pretend to shiver. I say a few emollient words about the weather, and I’m away.

There are two men listening to me as they eat, but at the first mention of judgement, they take themselves and their takeaways away. A few, fine flakes of snow blow by. By the time I’m on to the sin nature in man, more is falling, whirling and eddying around me, then melting as it meets the pavement.

As I describe the state of the nation, an older man in a sports top and shorts approaches, walking well despite the fact that his lower left leg is obviously artificial. In passing, he agrees with me, and expresses his opinion of our land with a brief but emphatic “It’s (expletive deleted)!”

The snow is falling faster, but still not sticking. The technician’s car (electric, of course) rolls quietly on its way, but there’s no point in changing position now. I indicate our poster, which quotes Romans 6.23, and we’re on to the good news of the gospel. This evokes a wave and some encouraging words from a white-haired gent passing by. I pick up the pace with 2 Corinthians 6.2. A cheerful fellow offers me a fist bump in passing, but I don’t miss a beat.

The snow stops, and a few tourists take pictures of each other, smiling and gesturing; and then the space in front of me is as empty as when I began, as I come to a close. And here is Brendan - a little late, but nonetheless welcome. Hot on his heels comes Kieran, and we pray together; then it’s off to the Arndale to thaw out - apart from Kieran, who says he will stay to take the second shift. Well, that’s good, too.

So - not a day of high drama, then? No, but the word was preached, and the tracts went well, and the real answer to the ills of our land was laid out in plain sight, for anyone who had eyes to see and ears to hear, on that cold, grey day.

We will be there again next Wednesday, God willing. Please join us if you can, and please pray for us if the Lord puts it upon your heart to do so.

Every blessing!