On a bright weekday in April1980 I was standing on the steps in front of my church. I had been minister of St. Andrew's Street Street Baptist Church in the centre of Cambridge less than four months. I was supposed to be meeting someone - I forget whom- but they never showed up.
Instead, something happened that changed my ministry. For the first time I saw the tens passing by the church front doors every minute. Shoppers laden with distinctive bags from the supermarket next door, students weaving in and out, sombre business people, colourful clusters of visitors, mothers with toddlers, the homeless begging. Nearby, to my left, a queue outside the city's main cinema was forcing pedestrians into the crowded traffic. This was a city alive, noisy, vibrant, needy.
With a jolt I realized I had only ever been at the church on Sundays and mid-week meetings when the city was quiet and the streets emptier. When the city was bustling with life our oak doors were firmly closed and, bluntly, our flint stone premises with the side passage way, little shop, house, graveyard and rear premises all looking forbidding and unloved. And locked-up! We only opened when the city was quiet and strict Sunday trading laws (since radically altered!) allowed us easy parking. We only appeared at off-peak times. Most of those people walking past took no notice of us and certainly not of our message. How tragically marginal and irrelevant to the modern city we seemed, with the good news of Jesus Christ restricted to a few on Sundays only.
I was deeply disturbed. Deeply. And I recognized that it was God who was deeply disturbing me! He wanted his people to be alive and present on that main street, loving and serving! Though no shining solid picture jumped into my mind as a vision for the future (actually, I confess very little was clear to me) I knew my ministry was going to be radically different. It certainly would be!