Walk of Witness or Walk of Shame?

I have a problem with the Walk of Witness. I always have and suspect I always will. And I’m not exactly sure why, but I do know that it makes me very uneasy and I never take part in them.

You know the kind of thing… sometimes/often ecumenical, a group of rather elderly people gather at a church and lug a huge cross along the street to the next church where they might meet another bunch of rather elderly people and so it goes on. Sometimes it ends in a church where there are prayers and a sing-song. Sometimes it ends at the town hall or other public space where prayers are said and hymns are sung (usually quite badly because there is no musical instrument to keep them in line). I believe that this Walk of Witness is to show passers-by that you can tell we are Christians by our grey hair and our large wooden cross and because it is Good Friday and look how we love one another.

And I feel dreadful being so mean minded about it because I know for some people these Walks are terribly important. They believe that they are indeed witnessing to their faith and that people will come to know Jesus by their actions. (I don’t know of anyone who joined a church because they saw a Walk of Witness.)  It is Mission, they say, or evangelism.  And the people keep on walking by on the other side, embarrassingly looking in any direction but at that huge cross. Or worse, shouting out insults and jokes which we bear because Our Lord did too.

Today a little book arrived in the post called 10 Second Sermons by Milton Jones, the comedian. I like Milton Jones. He makes me laugh and I didn’t know that he had a faith until I saw this wee book. There is something he wrote which made me realise why I struggle so much with Walks of Witness. Here it is:

Sometimes people think church is like a baseball bat. For most of the time they play nice little games with their friends. Then once a year they go out into the High Street and hit someone over the head with it.

I think that’s kind of how it feels to me. Because I’m not ashamed of being a Christian. Heaven knows you can hardly avoid guessing what I do for a living when I walk about town with a black shirt and dog collar on most of the time. On occasion I even wear crosses in my ears. I drive a car with rosary beads swinging from the mirror and a bouncy nun and dashboard Jesus tootle along on my dashboard, and there is a sign in my back window which proclaims ‘Welcome to the Scottish Episcopal Church’. So you see, I do witness to my faith each and every day.

I’ll even walk round the outside of my church on Sunday waving a palm cross and singing a song that nobody outside the church has ever heard and can’t make out because the front of the procession are two verses ahead of the end. And I’ll do it proudly with scarlet vestments and an orange hymn book which clashes.

But please just don’t ask me to walk along the road on a Walk of Witness. I’m sorry, and you probably think I’m shameful for it, but it does just feel like going out and hitting folk on the head with a baseball bat when they’re not quite ready for it.

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15 thoughts on “Walk of Witness or Walk of Shame?

  1. Well, yes – as with other forms of street “evangelism” it *is* picking up – encapsulating – the idea of witness and forcing it down people’s throats; it’s a product of the “count conversions not conversations” mentality.

    Mind you, WWJD – or “how did Jesus preach?” is a different question. Sure, there’s 1-on-12(ish) intimate discussion, but one don’t just spontaneously get a crowd of 5000 people around one…

  2. Right on sister. A total disaster. I would maybe feel different about a Pentecost celebration with jazz and good popular music and colour and fabulous outrageous costumes and free things like sweeties and paper dragons given out.

  3. Snap. I won’t be joining the Dunoon one. I never have. Photos of it tend to appear in the local paper, but that’s not why. You just told me why. And yet I once rode the streets of Edinburgh on the back of a lorry with a friend, our two small boys, and a large cardboard nuclear missile as part of a Miners’ Gala parade during the Miners’ strike …

  4. Oh yes please to Carnivals and jazzy processions.

    And yes to clergy and others in protest marches, sit-ins, etc. That’s what I call Witness.

  5. I sort of agree but not totally. When we did it in glasgow it was powerful as a witness against Sectarianism. RC, Pisky, CofS and congregationalist witness together not singing bigot rants against other sorts of Christian – it can have a role to play.

  6. i agree up to a point but not totally. In glasgow it was a powerful witness against sectarianism – all working together not chanting bigoted rubbish about other Christians.

    • Hm, Kelvin was just telling me that in Glasgow they had police escorts and it is treated like an Orange March or other. Guess it means different things in different places.

  7. Fear? Another kind of fear, perhaps? For I wonder if my attitude to the kind of walk we’re discussing isn’t to do with fear of letting down something that I fear to trivialise …

  8. You say that you’ve never met anyone who joined a church after seeing a walk of witness. I can’t contradict this, but my husband was first drawn to Christ (about 40 years ago) after seeing a TV programme about Arthur Blessitt, who carried a cross around the world. The Holy Spirit can use practically any demonstration of the fundamental foolishness of Christianity to get to folks, it seems!

  9. Thank you so much for writing this, it has given me much peace after seeing a group from my church posting about doing this next week (for the record, we are all twenty-thirty somethings). I am very honest about my faith, but would rather show others through acts of love than through some obnoxious march through town. It also separates Christians from others, portraying them as a slightly unhinged fraternity where we should be all-encompassing, graceful forgiving and most of all loving. I love Christ, but I just don’t feel this is how He intended it to be shown. The whole thing gives me the heebiejeebies.

  10. I wonder why these alternative witnesses are seen as opposite rather than complementary. I agree about acts of love and acts of kindness and there are plenty of those shown by Christians in our churches and in our communities. But I also like to say publicly with my fellow Christians of all denominations that Christ did this for us. As for conversions, I don’t know anyone who ever converted anyone. Merely assisted them on their journey to God, instigated by God’s Spirit. On the point of age we included three children in our walk of witness along with a range of ages up to the few eighty year olds who can still manage it. Good on them all.

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