Birmingham at St Martins in the Bullring
In the late sixties I was living in Birmingham and trying very hard to have an effect on young people. At that time we were running an event each Sunday night at my local church, it was attracting hundreds of youngsters including ‘rockers’ on their motor bikes, which did not make us particularly popular with our neighbours or the ‘nice’ leadership people who had permitted us to use the building.
After the demise of the ‘9 o clock special’ due to the arsonist attack, which subsequently led to the leaderships refusal of permission to continue our use of the hall, because they did not want ‘nasty unchristian, non churched people in their building’ I was left wondering what next?
Fortunately we were working with another local team, who were friendly and supportive. This was headed up by Dan Wooding, who as it happens, was best man at my wedding. Dan and I and a few others were invited to meet with Cannon Brian Green, the rector of St. Martins in the Bull Ring, a city centre church; he was quite a pioneer being one of the prime movers of the first visit to the UK by Billy Graham. Cannon Green had just overseen the completion of a large 500 seat hall attached to St. Martins and was seeking to make an impression on the young people in Birmingham.
The outcome of the meeting was that we were given the opportunity to re-launch the ‘9 o clock special’. We used the same format of very loud music, a testimony and a 10 minute talk following by tea, biscuits and chat. All over bar the shouting, and there was often a lot of shouting, in three quarters of an hour. We launched with a large team of 100 plus and attracted capacity crowds. They were not exactly polite and knew nothing of church etiquette but they came nonetheless.
People prayed, dished out invitations on the streets, gave their money and their time. Cannon Green also offered us financial support, meeting any shortfall on our weekly costs. He did this faithfully, every time we had a need. The average donation he made on many occasions was £50. You may think that is a drop in a bucket, but if you take inflation into consideration, then that is in the region of £745 per donation in today’s money. http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/historic-inflation-calculator
As I mentioned, the youngsters who came were not polite, couple this with the fact that the building we used was right next to the fruit and vegetable market. By the time we kicked-off on a Sunday night at 9:00 pm, there were always many stray vegetables lying around on the street. These became useful missiles if the crowd didn’t like the band or the speaker. On nights when the crowd considered the speaker poor, the post meeting hall clean up could produce enough veg to make a large and hearty soup!
I cannot now remember how many years we ran the ‘9 o clock special’ in the city centre, but I do remember that many young people had encounters with the living God, and many went on to become history makers and bringers of change, introducing still more people to The Way.
One day many years later, when I was leading a church in Grangetown, Middlesbrough some young lads from Birmingham contacted me and offered to come and help with work we were doing on a nearby estate. Four or five of them showed up one day and knocked on my door in Wilton Way. One of them seemed familiar, ‘don’t I know you’ I said, he simply laughed.
Later in the evening, over coffee and sandwiches, I said to him again that I was sure I knew him from somewhere. He again found this amusing, and when he had finished laughing this was the story he told me.
“I used to come to the late night specials at St. Martins in the Bullring and I made a commitment to Christ. You said that you would pick me up each Sunday and spend time talking more about what my commitment meant. You came every week, and every week I would hide behind the curtains and tell my mum to tell you I was out. I couldn’t believe that you didn’t give up, that you kept on coming week after week, that’s why I was laughing. Years later I strolled into another meeting in central Birmingham and the guys who were talking were saying the same stuff that you had said, I finally realised that this is life, from then on I have never looked back, but that first encounter made the initial impression and put the spark in me.”
When I look back on what we did and how we did it, I feel as though we were blundering around. However, maybe God honours our blundering, commitment and love for him and his world. Later on we were privileged to have small glimpses of what he was doing in people lives as a result of his blessing on our blunderings. We don’t always get to see what we want to see, and we don’t always get it right, but if the love of God is in us, it definitely has an effect.
To quote Gerald Coates, the founder of Pioneer, ‘Often God is doing more behind our backs that he is in front of our face, but every so often we get to laugh at the success he has brought from something we did that we hadn’t even dreamt was possible and actually maybe what wasn’t even that good.’ Perhaps that’s mission?
Adrian L Hawkes
Thursday, 13 December 2012
For Our Lab Stories
Editor: A. Brookes