There was a large yellow dancing duck
My new wife Pauline and I moved to Middlesbrough, new area, new situation, new problems, but the same need for people to hear the good news, and the same challenge of how it should be communicated. I am always willing to try something new, but you have to have the idea in the first place before you can try it. At that stage I didn’t have any new ideas so I forged ahead with my tried and tested methods.
Grangetown, where we were living, did not have much for young people to do, or places for them to go. So I revisited the ‘60’s’ coffee and chat idea, we had a hall that we could use attached to the main meeting building. We set it up as a coffee bar, we had no singers as there was only me and Pauline, we dished out the invites and waited to see if anything would happen. We used taped music and we made the coffee, youngsters came but it was hard to have one to one conversations as we were outnumbered 30 to 1, instead a talk from a central point seemed the way forward.
In this part of town they also had the tendency to throw things if they didn’t like what was happening, similar to my experience in Birmingham at St Martins when they threw vegetables at us. Here it was rather more aggressive and destructive; bricks through windows were a regular occurrence.
It was a rough and tumble type town but even so many of the youngsters that we met wanted, truly wanted to know God, in fact I have heard from a few of them recently and it is now over 30 years ago.
I was puzzled by the fact that many of the local kids managed to find the hall where we were holding the coffee bar; it was not located anywhere obvious being right at the end of the town. One evening I was chatting to one of the youngsters and asked him how he had managed to find us and why he had come to listen to me. He told me that the local vicar had been going round the schools with a stern warning to all the young people, ‘Stay away from those new people in the church at the end of town, they are weird Americans and they will corrupt you.’ We could not have had better publicity; telling youth not to do something is guaranteed to ensure they will!
Gradually many of these young people became part of our church community, although they took great pleasure in playing tricks on me. We also had to deal with gangs of them invading our house night after night. In that area at that time the culture was ‘open door, come right on in’ If we forgot to lock the door, we would be washing up in the kitchen, and come back into the living room to discover 6 to 8 young people had appeared. This was quite a pressure for a newly married couple just starting out in their first leadership role, but they wanted questions answered; they wanted to understand the meaning of their existence.
One day we had a very special speaker who was visiting the church building. They all turned up and were on their best behaviour; this was often not the case and I was regularly getting complaints from the ‘established churches’ that these youngsters were too noisy, too young or did not observe religious etiquette.
As I stood at the front, leading the meeting I was pleased that they were so well behaved, and there wouldn’t be any complaints about them this evening. Then to my surprise, I noticed some of the older ladies were looking decidedly wobbly and flustered, and one or two of them left the building half-way through the meeting. I also noticed that there was suppressed laughter rippling through the rows of youngsters.
At the end of the formal part of the meeting I found some of the ladies sitting in the side room, looking quite ill and sipping water. ‘What’s the problem?’ I asked. They all spoke at once but I eventually gathered that they had been having hallucinations and it had made them feel faint. The hallucination, it turned out, was a large yellow duck behind me and the speaker; it was obviously a very spiritual duck because it danced in time with the music, it had deeply disturbed them and sent them scurrying out as they just couldn’t take it any longer
I smelled something fishy, and quizzed the teens to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. They had stolen my daughter’s bath time toy, a large yellow plastic duck, broken into the building and placed it on the top of the large unused organ which was situated at the back of the platform. They had then tied an almost invisible nylon cord around its neck, which they threaded along the ceiling and dropped down into the rows where the youngsters were sitting. By sleight of hand they made it dance in time with the music of each song.
I feigned great disappointment at their actions, but deep down I was hoping that over time their creativeness and hard work could be turned to more constructive use as their passion for Jesus grew.
Adrian L Hawkes
Editor: A. Brookes