Walk On

IT WAS Southend High Street, Good Friday afternoon, in 2000. It was hot and sunny as we waited silently in a circle, as one of our group stood in the middle, propping-up a large, six foot-high wooden cross. It was the Good Friday Silent Witness and a large number of us – mainly members of town-centre churches – had gathered quietly around the cross for an hour.

It was gone Three and thousands of people moved past us…some of them slowing down and briefly, respectfully, falling silent themselves, when their eyes encountered this powerful piece of performance art.Considering what day it was, the silence spoke volumes as we stood impassively. There was no need for explanation.

“Stay here and keep watch with me.”

We were gathered in the lower part of the High Street, near McDonalds and Marks and Sparks. It was my second year of being part of this remarkable gathering and the first had passed incredibly slowly: it felt like a year had passed in one hour. Now, the time was passing quite quickly when, about halfway through, it happened.

There was a slight commotion as one of a group of lads coming from the direction of Western Road broke away and barged through the circle and began showing off for the ‘benefit’ of the others, who’d stopped to see what he’d do. He was shouting as, with his back to the cross, he walked backwards and mimed pinning himself upon it. There he stood for a few seconds, with his arms in a crucifix pose and his body pressed against the wood, laughing loudly.

WE ALL felt uncomfortable as no-one knew what to do. Eventually, a sense of indignation got the better of me and I moved towards him. I rested a hand on his arm and said something like, “C’mon mate – tha’sa nuffa that…” or words to that effect. But he was already ‘coming down’ off the cross. So much so, that he brushed passed me before he really realised I was there. He stopped. He turned back to confront me. We stood about a yard apart, staring at each other, eyeball-to-eyeball for about three or four seconds. I could smell the beer on his breath and I thought that I could really do with being elsewhere and enjoying a drink myself.

Then he moved – shouting and screetching as he turned and barged his way out of the circle to rejoin the lads as they stumbled up the High Street, deliberately bumping into passers-by as they went. The whole ‘incident’ had lasted a matter of seconds.

The following year, the Silent Witness changed. It began at three o’clock and – processing slowly behind the cross – we walked silently from Pier Hill, up to the top of the High Street, where we gathered outside the Odeon and where we had a short service led by the Salvation Army Band…which was entirely appropriate, as the Army had always organised and taken charge of the Silent Witness previously, and it was great to see them leading a ‘congregation’ of some 150 or so, in worship among the hordes of shoppers.

I was to attend the following year, where it again took the form of a procession and service, and where it now appeared to be a real fixture in the calendars of most town-centre churches, judging by the passion that the Rev. Stephen Burdett evinced for it, when I briefly chatted to him, afterwards. Unfortunately, I haven’t been in town to attend the event, since.

The Good Friday Witness will be taking place again, this year. This is not a Love Southend event, but one organised by the Salvation Army as usual, along with their near-neighbours. I believe that it will commence at Pier Hill at 3pm, as normal. We’re just happy to publicise it and encourage you to attend, along with other Walks of Witness. There’s an attempt for there to be many such Walks nationwide, at noon on Good Friday – certainly there’s the annual Chalkwell Churches’ Walk Of Witness, to conclude with a joint-service in Chalkwell Park; there’s also a morning procession along Woodgrange Drive in the morning, to Christ Church for their Good Friday service. We’ll give you more details when we get them – since I first wrote this News Item, I’ve learnt that there are to be two Walks (one along Leigh Road and the other along London Road) in Chalkwell, to culminate in the service in Chalkwell Park (near the White House) at the earlier time of 11.00am. Also, Christ Church will be proceeding from their shop at 229 Woodgrange Drive, confirmed to begin at 10am. Members of Southchurch United Reformed Church will be walking alongside them.

But I seriously recommend you consider attending such a Walk, and encourage your friends and churches to join in, too – unfortunately, I won’t be there. I shall be up on Merseyside for the holiday period, staying with my future in-laws and where I daresay that I’ll be attending a church service or two at St. Mark’s Church, New Ferry, Birkenhead.

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