Sunday, 14 July 2013

London Day

AW Tozer talks about 'expectation in the programme' and 'expectation in the Presence'.  When churches, he says, lose the experience of God being with them, they create a spurious anticipation in the organised round of diaried events.  "You know," he characterises the preacher announcing, "We all look forward to this popular monthly event - the Men's Group Barbecue," or whatever.  For us, London Day had got a bit like that.  Undoubtedly an occasion of challenge, exertion and adrenaline - we struggled to identify the blessing of solid fruit.

For many summers, the whole Church turned up on the Saturday of each city marquee campaign.  Traditionally we did a march and spread out for some evangelism.  Once we found we could book Trafalgar Square, London Day turned out to be a monster version of this 'city action' theme, linked with the annual marquee campaign in Willesden Park.  We'd all leave home at some impossibly early time, park up miles away, do a morning march, three hours of stage events in the Square, rush-hour traffic our way across to the Park, endure a whole-evening event, and thread our weary way back home up the M1.  Meanwhile the techie team faced even more impossible challenges of taking down the whole PA rigmarole in the Square and rebuilding it in the marquee in time for the evening celebration.  I remember Days when we marched and stood in the Square through hours of pouring rain; and that in 1989 the temperature topped a relentless 93F.

Things changed when we established the Battle Centre community house near to Oxford Street, replacing the one in West London.  It meant an invitation to a more local informal evening event could replace the marquee celebration, when we'd met interested people on Trafalgar Square.  When the Jesus Centre opened about four years ago, it provided even more logic to beefing up the central part of the Day, leaving most of us to toddle off home thereafter.  Some of us thought that we were going soft.

Bit by bit we developed more effective expectation.  But what in?  Coloured tee-shirts came along to add to the march spectacle.  We spent more money on the mobile PA, until the techies 99% eliminated the recurring disappointment of sections conking out mid-song.  Changes in the policing and traffic control meant we needed a security firm to replace our own large stewarding team.  A bright digital display appeared over the stage at the Square, and we phased out the old-fashioned sing-along songsheets.  We even booked coaches to travel in more civilised manner and avoid the £30 per vehicle parking hit.  Now no-one could complain that spiritual impact was overcome by the near Olympian stamina challenge of the Day.

Somehow, I've nearly always managed to find some reserve to engage in 'expectation in the Presence'.  (I do confess that when I was on our Glastonbury Festival team in 2002, I didn't regret the clash of commitments.)  The march turning the corner at the bottom of Haymarket, aware that we've worshipped and testified for the best part of an hour, to me always counts as a signal moment in establishing the lordship of Jesus in the heart of the capital.  I am swept away in emotion and transcendence.

So, at a leisurely 7.00am, we were on the air-conditioned and toilet-facilitied coach, duly arriving at Hyde Park Corner - barely stirred, let alone ruffled - nicely before 11.00am.  Titus had read 250 pages of Swallows and Amazons.  We gathered for the march start in some pleasant shade, with the only inconvenience being the fact that the toilets which had been free last year were now charging 50p.  I bumped into AMEN man Desmond and three of his 'boys' (each six feet tall), part of the other church groups that had signed up to make it a 'Jesus Day' rather than 'Jesus Army Day'.  Nathan's voice filled the air over the impressive wireless-linked PA.  "Now then Jesus Army..."  No! Wrong, Nathan!  "...Watch me while we practise this clap."  We'd no idea where he was perched; where to look.   No matter.  I got passed a large banner on stout poles, and Piers agreed to take one side.

The 'greens', our colour, were the first section.  I got the very rare view of the dance teams that follow the lead vehicle.  I didn't envy them their continuous exertions, while I was somewhat more sedately pacing behind with the banner.  Sounds bounced off the tall Piccadilly buildings.  The band lorry held a full-on percussion section as well as the guitars, keyboards and pre-recorded rhythm kit.  I think we marchers only sang, "We are walking in the light of God."  Our voices were otherwise superfluous.  So we could smile; and engage in a bit of eye contact; and not end up breathlessly gasping.  Mary found it shallow.  I found it fresh.

I supported 'Ban the Bomb' as a teenager.  When I was a student, I witnessed from my hall of residence 13th floor window, the churches' Whitsun march around central Manchester.  Demure Sunday School pupils in white blouses skipped along with quaint hand-produced banners.  In my early employment, I've also seen coal workers marching, with swaying gaudily-pretentious Lodge colours.  As sincere and true-to-their time as these may have been, note that demonstrations have their shelf life.  Even the 'Stop the Cuts' and EDL marches have to avoid their cringeworthy elements (though I can't speak for 'Gay Pride' - I just missed their final phalanx three years ago).  I'm glad we've upgraded, and leapfrogged into the teenies.

Immediately on the Square, I spotted Wakey.  We had a hearty catch-up.  He's enjoying his training for his new customer service job.  He nudged me that life would be so much better with an American Express card and air miles.  Public buildings in Portland stone have their appeal.  But they present a remorseless stage set for standing around once the temperature climbs under a cloudless sky.  I'm in training for India and Myanmar in September.  Working out on the cross-trainer, I'm determined I won't arrive carrying two stone of unwelcome lard.  So I was interested to see how I'd tolerate the 80F range.  Mary was sheltering - pink and glowing - under her blue and yellow golf umbrella.  I went onto the far side of the Square, where the balcony stonework was too hot to touch with comfort.  Gav and Georgie had sensibly assembled their little flock under some shady trees.  The Kings Church, Medway, folks did really well with their stage items.

 The programme finished a few minutes early, and Mary and I headed in the direction of the Coventry coach.  Our destination was Promise House, and I'd be taking the Sunday morning meeting.  We had to divert off the M1 because of a nasty accident on the other carriageway.  Once home, Andy and Sharon knocked out some eggy bread.  We all sat around trying to fathom the 20 most erudite jokes featured in the day's 'i' newspaper.  Our top-floor bedroom was oppressive.  Opening all the windows, we found a fresh breeze blowing from the main Foleshill road side.  Trouble was, the neighbourhood sprang to life as 10.00pm approached, and the Ramadan confinements lifted.  A colourful day, in many more ways than one.  And one for 'the Presence'.


Michael Lewis said...

Thought this was really good and interesting and then saw it was by you which explained why.

John Vagabond said...

Interesting post - not least because you felt able to be gently critical of marches in times past.
Me, I have a problem with events like this. People in uniform mean business - witness the Hitler Youth or the Salvationists - and I think some might be intimidated by a throng of dressed-alikes singing and dancing in public. Also, is it compulsory for the whole Church to show up? What are you marching for, in other words, what are you hoping to achieve? Do people come up to you, or do you go to them? Personally, if someone came up to me wreathed in smiles and wearing an irridescent green T-shirt, I think I'd scurry round the corner quite rapidly.