Tea, biscuits and rockers
I am always puzzled by what people mean when they used the word mission. Do they mean sharing good news, or something else? Claire Smith from ourlab blog fame has asked me to write some stories about mission, so stories I will write, are they about mission? You decide.
Very early Birmingham
I grew up in Brum and at around 19 years old, somehow God had got hold of me and a group of other young people. For me, it was one of those ‘blinding light’ revelations, I was in a coffee bar with a guy called Tony Stone when he commanded me to go and talk to some young people about Jesus. My pulse was racing, and my breathing was shallow as, carefully carrying one of those frothy coffees that had had just come on the market, I approached their table and hesitantly asked if I could join them.
Much later, as I walked out of the coffee bar and the cold air hit my face, the light of revelation also hit me; I knew the reality of a relationship with the living God. During the evening, as more and more people had crowded round the table, listening to my quiet conversation about Jesus, I realised they were not anti, they just didn’t know anything about him, but the fact that they stayed, and listened, surely meant they were interested. I knew God, they didn’t, but they were keen to hear. For you, perhaps that is not so profound, but I wanted to fall off my donkey and lie on the ground in awe. I didn’t actually have a donkey, and the pavement looked hard and cold, but nevertheless the light had flashed down on me.
I was so turned on by this experience that I gathered a group of like minded young people and we decided we would ‘evangelise’, we didn’t know what to do, and for many of us our extended church background did not prepare us to engage with the real world, but we were keen to do something. We decided to ask the church leadership if we could borrow the building in order to hold some ‘special meetings’. Their response was confusing and disappointing, ‘you might bring some nasty people into the place’. I thought that Jesus came for the sick and needy, not the healthy and secure? Our youthful enthusiasm was not thwarted, and we kept on nagging, eventually they agreed to let us use the building on a Sunday evening, at 9:00 pm, after all the nice people had gone home!
Looking back it now seems very old fashioned, unsophisticated and perhaps a tad crazy, but we did what we knew; we printed some flyers and dished them out to local young people. The flyer heading was ‘Nine O Clock Special’ printed upside down, beneath this the text read ‘in this upside down world, 9 o clock special is a must. Tea and biscuits. This was the early sixties!
The programme ran as follows, for 15 minutes our musicians played hymns, very, very fast, then someone gave their testimony, and then to wind it up, a preacher, who had strict instruction to speak for no more than 10 minutes. It was all over by 9:45 except for the tea, biscuits and chat.
To my amazement, the place was packed Sunday night after Sunday night, 52 weeks a year. Hundreds of young people came through the doors and due to the fact that some of our clientele were rockers, lined up outside the church building were rows of gleaming motor bikes. At the end of the evening, the rockers usually all left at the same time, each one firing up their bike and waiting until every one was ready, the deep throated machines revving in unison; finally they peeled off one by one, in a cacophony of sound, up the Walford Road. This did not make us popular with the neighbours.
One of the regular speakers made a lasting impression on me. He was the oldest guy in the church, Mr. Holt was his name and he must have been in his late seventies. He spoke in authorised version bible English, and I am convinced to this day no-one understood a word he was saying. However, he loved the young people and wanted them to know his God. The impact he had no other speaker could replicate; when he came more people than ever wanted to make a connection with Jesus. The fact that he loved God, followed Jesus and so obviously cared for his audience was communicated despite his words.
These strange meetings, at least when I look back they seem strange, went on for many years; people were inspired to become church leaders, lives were changed and the effect of those meetings echoed and re-echoed. Years after they had ceased, I was still meeting people who told me that the ‘9 o clock special’ was where they had their first encounter with the living God, where Jesus first became their friend.
The end came early one Monday morning, the phone jolted me awake and I was summoned to the building by one of the church leaders. I was greeting by a swathe of fire engines, police cars and disgruntled church leaders. In the middle of the night an arsonist had broken into the building and used our advertising materials to set fire to the back hall, the one we had been using to hold the meetings. The leader’s attitude was ‘we told you so, we knew if you invited nasty people into our sanctuary something terrible would happen’.
Once the insurance had paid up, the renovation and redecoration was complete, and everything was looking better than ever I was summoned before the church leaders. As I listened to the case they made against me, it felt a little as if I had organised the fire; they left me in no doubt that I would never again be permitted to use the ‘sanctuary’.
And that was the end of the story, or at least this part of the story. Jesus, or rather his people, were not interested in rockers or ruffians. They only wanted nice people, in a nice tidy building.
Adrian L Hawkes
1st April 2010
For Ourlab stories
Editor A Brookes