Well, soon we will be off again, to sing in the temples of mammon: i.e. shopping malls. A great feast of tempting displays, all seeking to part us from our money. Glory to God in the high street; bright lights; big city. Where is Christ in all of this? Where is the Christmas message amongst the Father Christmases, the reindeer, the decorations, the snowmen, the......... Surely the Christmas spirit has left these places?
Yet for us as a choir, last year's 'Mall Tour', as it came to be known, was one of the most moving, emotional and uplifting that we had ever undertaken. There we were, singing material from our 'Stargifts' Christmas musical and interspersing the songs with Bible readings from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and we were overwhelmed by the response. People stopping to listen, hanging over railings, suddenly standing still, all letting the music wash over them. Men moved to tears, people being overwhelmed by the message, knowing in a strange way they were being blessed by something larger than themselves. What a privilege to sing to these people. People with their ears full of shop 'muzak', surrounded by the trappings of a Christ-less Christmas, but listening to the timeless message that echoed in their hearts. It wasn't just the shoppers: At each of our three venues - Beales, Royal Victoria Place and Bluewater - we were treated with kindness, helpfulness and courtesy. No one objected, not even when some of our number were busy giving out tracts.
We realised that amongst all the commercial trappings, people were still willing to listen to the Gospel message. Their ears heard Scripture; for some, maybe, bringing back distant, untapped memories of that time when they went to church. We recognised that God was at work; the Spirit was moving upon people and no amount of 21st century secularism could stop it. There is still an ear of faith out there, an aching search begun by the Spirit. There is still a hunger in people's hearts for a Christ-shaped message of hope, blessing and, most importantly, loving forgiveness. We were humbled.
So, our rehearsing is nearly over and we move on with this Gospel adventure. Bilbo Baggins says in 'The Hobbit': "Adventures are disruptive and make you late for dinner". Well, it may be very intimidating singing surrounded by the enticing smells of coffee, warm bacon rolls and the other many assorted aromas that are carried on the air in these places but, you know, we don't seem to be hungry when we're singing. Afterwards, O yes! But thank you Lord for the opportunities you are going to give us as we sing on the 'Mall Tour'. May we bring You honour and may people be won for the Kingdom. Yes we're shopping.....for souls!