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.