I mentioned last post the three young people from YWAM who visited us during their Faith Week. Watching them bustle around the house so full of youthful Christian energy made me think, with a pang, of myself at their age, the age when this photo was taken. I was converted to the faith of Christ at 21 and in 1975, a couple of years afterward, went to work for a fellow Christian who ran a window cleaning business in Christchurch. My fellow employees, both about my age, were Graeme Carle, who is now senior pastor of Hillside Church in Auckland, and Marcus Arden who was then, is now and perhaps forever shall be a travelling evangelist. We cleaned the windows in Noah's Hotel in Christchurch, and the days were spent in long and earnest and inventive and hilarious discussions of the Bible, life, the Bible, the universe, the Bible, and everything. And the Bible. A month or so into the job two things happened simultaneously. Firstly we three employees developed the growing conviction that we should preach in Cathedral Square, in competition to the Wizard. Secondly our employer went broke. It looked like our jobs were over anyway, so the three of us decided to stay on, cleaning windows for him, but not to draw wages until he got himself out of his financial embarrassment. So began one of the most remarkable months of my life.
Marcus started. After many days standing round gathering courage, making resolutions and not keeping them he one day just stood up and let fly some basic Christian message or other.Marcus being Marcus, a smallish crowd gathered. Over the next few days, as our courage increased enough, Graeme and I joined him. Because we were donating our work, we felt OK about taking the required very long lunch hours. We would preach for an hour or 90 minutes in a sort of three way tag team, then retire for a while to the shop Marcus owned in High St: The Christian Love Shop, which was a sort of drop in centre /op shop where all the merchandise was free. We continued this regime for exactly a month, and over that brief time three things happened.
Firstly, I learned how to preach. 30 days in Cathedral Square was a far better course in preaching than the 3 years of homiletics training I would later receive at St. John's College. Far, far better. It was more valuable to me than any book I've ever read on preaching, or in fact, than all of the books I've ever read on preaching combined. I learned with a vengeance that preaching was an act of communication. Therefore, if you are not communicating you are not preaching you're doing something else, probably to do with obligation and/or ego. In the open air you knew when you stopped communicating because people walked away. You knew when your were communicating because they told you. You knew when you were talking tosh because they told you that also. Ahhh... hecklers... the memories..... There's nothing better than a witty heckler when preaching: they certainly help draw a crowd and they certainly keep you communicating.
Secondly, I learned about faith. For a month I had no income. Not a cent. And I had no reserves at all, not a cent. I had bills to pay and all the usual requirements of food and transport and clothing, and for a month all my needs were met. Marcus taught me not to let anyone know what my needs were; that, he said, was merely begging. Instead, he told me, I was to pray and trust. It worked. It was a little nerve wracking at times, but I never had a single prayer for my daily bread go unanswered.
Thirdly, and most importantly, our preaching bore fruit. In the course of the month 30 people - that is, on average one a day - came to know Christ as Saviour, or had their faith restored. We had some amazing tales to tell. Such as the Hare Krishna guy in a saffron robe who followed us to the Love Shop and there switched faiths. Such as the young girl sitting 500 metres away in a cafe on the other side of the square, who, over the top of the Wizard's very loud oration, and the buses and the traffic heard my repeated catch phrase "Where Is Your Life Heading?" and came the next day to talk to us. Such as the baptisms we held on New Brighton Beach to immerse people who had come to faith in the Square. As far as evangelism anyway, I have never had such an intensely fruitful period in all the 30 some years of ministry which followed.
We stopped when we all had other things to be getting on with, and when, providentially, our employer's financial situation had been sorted out. Ray Comfort took over the street preaching and continued for many years until he too went on to grander and more sophisticated things. I've never done that sort of street evangelism since, though I was sorely tempted -both on my own account and that of my charges - during the five years I was responsible for clergy formation in the Diocese of Waikato, but of course you can't relive the past. Back in 1975 were young. We were theologically naive. We were not very conversant with inclusiveness and broad mindedness, and all that genteel stuff that makes the Anglican Church what it is today and I know a whole lot better now. Unfortunately. I looked at those three kids in my house last week, serving God with paintbrushes and cleaning rags, and revelling in a depth of new untrammelled faith that was invigorating to be around. And yes Mr. Fowler, I know that I am well into the subjunctive faith stage and they, being young adults are just over the transition from synthetic conventional to individuative-reflective faith, but still, there is a sense that I have lost something. I have so much now in the way of intellectual and social and material capital that I can get on pretty well under my own steam. Yet the whole deal about faith is that you can't, not ever, not in any way learn it unless you DO it, and doing it requires being in a situation where you have no resources but one, and that is the willingness to trust. I guess that is why Jesus said the thing about rich people and camels and eyes of needles. And I know that the very survival of our diocese and perhaps even of our denomination depends exactly on us rediscovering a whole renewed level of trust in and dependence on the Living God. I.e., faith.