Power to the people

9 06 2009

Inspired by a similar event in Liverpool, I sent out a whole bunch of requests for people to come and be part of a flashmob in the Guildhall Square in Portsmouth to mark Pentecost Sunday. I posted an event of Facebook and invited loads of people, I sent emails, I sent texts, I tweeted, I gave out little flyers. I got a lot of positive responses and interest. Actually signed up on Facebook? Eight people. Yes, count ’em. Eight.

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As it was, on the night, 56 people turned out, took off their shoes and socks, gathered and sat in the shape of a cross, prayed silently for two minutes, sung a single note, lit candles and then dispersed – either to the pub or to their homes. If you want to see a video clip of the event, you can find it here. There are photographs here. The taking off of the shoes thing was to symbolise that we were on holy ground. God is everywhere. Where God is, is holy. So the Guildhall Square on a Sunday night is holy. The singing a single note thing was a way of symbolising the whole rushing wind vibe from the first Pentecost experience. The lighting candles thing was a way of representing the whole tongues of fire vibe from the first Pentecost experience. The going to the pub thing was a way of symbolising the whole ‘I quite fancy a pint afterwards anyone else want to join me’ vibe.

Funny thing was about thirty people did (want to join me for a pint) but my usual Sunday night haunt, the Fleet, was ‘at capacity’ that night and so we couldn’t go in. The one night in three I’ve actually got quite a big bunch of people with me and they turn us away. Oh well. Not to be frustrated we went to the Isambard Kingdom Brunel instead. Refreshment and conversation was much enjoyed all round.

I knew it wouldn’t be that busy in the Guildhall Square (apart from in the Fleet obviously!) This first time for a ‘guerrila worship’ event in the city was a way of dipping a toe in the water and seeing what it felt like as a group of people to gather together and do something beyond the safe confines of our usual church buildings. Broadly speaking, it was successful, I think. Several people found it quite a profound experience. The big screen showing BBC News 24 was a little distracting and I might encourage everyone to do what some had worked out for themselves beforehand (a candle lit outdoors is much less likely to go out if it’s in a jam jar). And of course with it not being that busy, we didn’t make a hugh impact on the night life of Portsmouth. But that’s for another occasion. Some people did have conversations with passers-by, including one I had with a very drunk young lady who insisted that Jesus loved her despite some offences that were such that if she had really committed them all it’s possible the abolition of the death penalty may have been temporarily revoked for her benefit. Actually as I said on BBC Radio Solent the next day – yes Radio Solent, that’s how cutting edge I am – it’s not about preaching to people, so conversations may not be so important as what my colleague has, somewhat pretentiously, called ripping a hole in people’s reality. That doesn’t sound at all friendly. But it can be if people’s reality has become unrelentingly mundane. This sort of unexpected event just breaks the monotony. Introduces the unexpected. Reminds us that life doesn’t always have to be predictable and boring. That strange and unusual things can happen. That we can have some fun occasionally.

So a big thank you to all those who came and to those who thought about it! Next time I think we’ll go for something a bit more high impact, at a busier time of day and not necessarily in that place. Watch this space. I feel like Citizen Smith. Does anyone else remember that series with Robert Lindsay? ‘Power to the people’.

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