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May 18, 2009

Hymns at Speakers' Corner


A couple singing hymns at Speakers' Corner in London. Photo by Matthias Gieselmann.

"Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God."
- Acts 20:25-27

h/t Matt Blair at Life With A Bible


I found the photo of the elderly couple at Speakers' Corner in London "singing hymns" a fascinating look into European society.

I suspect that scenes like the one "captured" for us are becoming more and more rare and are probably being highlighted for this reason if nothing else. Two poor demented old souls, who, in the words of a current beloved president, are "still clinging to their religion".

In a city where buses carry the legend "there probably is no God" the expression of religion even at the Speaker' corner must be at one and the same time cute, quaint and embarrasingly annoying to a majority populace which believes that modern science and technology should long ago (or will soon) negate the need for any god, except of course, the state.

The first part of the text quoted under the photo also caught my attention with its statement "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again". For the then speaker the words were prophetic; with the present intolerance for anything religious in modern western societies the prophecy may yet be fulfilled, again.

Something else caught my attention. When I first saw the emblem on the coat of the male in the photo it reminded me so much of the "Star of David" and my mind flashed to another time when that emblem marked the ones wearing it(who also proclaimed a "probable" God) for almost certain death. Looking at the "Star" produced a chillingly eerie apprehension.

If a picture paints a thousand words then this one was etched with a kind of pathos: A man with his face covered carrying a large identification mark on his chest, a woman with a half smile on her face holding a Bible text which is part proclamation part protest, the man "singing hymns", the woman declaring the gospel.

Two items absent from the scenario are joy and listeners. Which leaves me to wonder whether these omissions may not be deliberate and intentional. After all the "words" that a pictuire paints are the words of its "author". Are we being allowed to see what the camera saw or are we seeing what the "author" desires?

I was at the speakers corner several times in the 1980s. We came together in an impromptu group and had a number of listeners. The church in England is suffering, but after thirty years of frequent visits to England, I believe the Gospel is alive and well.

Philip Hudson

I lived in London in the middle to late 1960s and regularly made my Sunday afternoon pilgrimage to Speaker's Corner.

Two of the regular speakers were Lord Donald Soper, a Methodist minister and member of the House of Lords, and The Catholic Evidence Guild, with a variety of speakers.

The former was a pro at fending off hecklers and fielding serious question. The speakers of the CEG teneded to be novices having their baptism of fire under the guidance of an old hand. The hecklers knew this and could be particularly virulent. But they also knew that they were part of the training and when the speaker was over there was often a smattering of applause.


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