Sabbatical Day 30: Urban Harvest, rough sleepers and street evangelism

Last day of theological study today and, as I felt I was almost done, I stopped for longer with the homeless and rough sleepers on Corporation Street and the Cathedral Square. Over three weeks I’ve been stopping to chat and offer help, I’ve experienced a genuine community which gathers, shares their lives, belongings and problems, as well as creating some issues, as all communities do.  We have had some banter, spoken about Jesus and the frustrations with housing in the city, the reducing number of options, the isolation of being housed a long way from friends, the boredom and lack of opportunity to do anything meaningful. By the end of two hours of hanging out today, I’d given away a book of devotions on the psalms and a bottle of water, fed a dog and exchanged phone numbers with a guy who wants to be involved in changing work with the homeless, with the church. We will see where the Lord takes us when I get back in September.

In the library I carried on reading Urban Harvest.  Roy Joslin describes how mission in the new urban centres of the 18th and 19th century would start with “rugged enthusiasm” by clergy/pastors who acted as trainers for energetic, evangelistic laity.  Once churches became established, however, the mood turned to “ordered refinement”, with an increased professionalization of the pastor/clergy and reduced involvement of the laity in evangelism.  Joslin also described the social and physical shift of those who had been lifted by gospel ministry, who would either leave the area or disengage socially with the culture from where they first came.  Churches had to walk a tight-rope between “enthusiastic evangelism” and a much quieter order.  This problem, it seemed to Joslin in the late 1970s, and to us today, is a perennial one for churches in the inner city.  I look forward to reading on.

On the way home I passed the Birmingham City Mission street evangelism team and stopped to offer some encouragement.  There’s a huge amount of street work by all sorts of religious organisations on New Street and the High Street.  It feels like the market in Ephesus, as I imagine it.  All sorts of ideas and ideologies are on offer and people are willing to  stop and engage.  I’ve spent time talking to Muslims, JWs and ordinary folk in the street about Jesus over the past few weeks.  It was good to see some orthodox Christians in the mix.  Birmingham feels like a place were people are searching and the church needs to do some rugged and enthusiastic evangelism.

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