Handling Emergencies in Meetings

A symposium in three parts.

By HAROLD N. WILLIAMS, District Superintendent, Indiana Conference

One time while preaching I noticed that more and more people in the audience were being distracted by something behind me, and many were laughing. I turned around and saw a cat peeking out from a panel in the Hammond organ, where it had been hid­ing. An assistant tried to get the cat, but each time the cat would dodge back into the cabinet. I told the audience that the cat might have been in the church a long time, and it was probably hungry and thirsty. That took away the laugh­ing and aroused sympathy.

I told the assistant to back up a little and call softly, "Kitty, Kitty," and he did. The cat came out and was carried outside. I then gave a very short talk on kindness and love for God's dumb creatures. With a sober, sympathetic audience we returned to the solemn message of the hour with keen interest. Scolding the au­dience or ignoring the interruption would not have helped a bit, but sympathy and tact added a good lesson to the one already being given.

One night when I was speaking to a large audience in a rented hall, a radical started heckling me while I was trying to impress the people with a very solemn message. Some peo­ple thought it funny and began nudging one an­other and laughing. Encouraged by these per­sons the man rose and began loudly calling me a liar. Since the audience consisted mostly of strangers and I had no organized company of assistants, I was perplexed for a moment as to what course of action to take.

I might have asked someone to call a police­man. I might have lectured the man and shamed him, but he probably would have been much worse if I had lowered myself to argue with him. Without mentioning the disturbance or showing that I even noticed it, I framed my sentences quickly to make prayer appropriate, and then invited the whole audience to kneel with me in prayer. I offered a fervent and earnest prayer, asking God to help us think clearly, and that God's sweet Spirit might speak clearly to each soul present. As we rose to our feet after the prayer we saw that the man had gone. Several people had become so disgusted with him that they had demanded that he leave, and had quietly helped him out during the prayer. They returned, leaving the disturber outside, and that night several took a definite stand to serve God and obey Him.

Another time an intoxicated man came noisily into a hall where we were preaching. He started talking and making a real disturbance. People began laughing, and it was impossible to hold the attention. Instead of antagonizing the man and having any violence, I entirely ig­nored his insults, laughed mildly, and address­ing him pleasantly told him he had made a mis­take in coming to the place. I invited him to come back sometime to hear the lectures, but assured him that his friends were outside, and told him someone wanted him at the door. A man at the door took my cue and called to him to come outside. I announced a hymn, and we sang while he left, and then we resumed the dis­course with the best of attention.

In a large theater effort many years ago I had no music leader, so I had to lead the sing­ing myself. It was over fifteen feet from the stage of this large theater to the orchestra pit floor. It is a rather lively task to lead the music for an audience of over fifteen hundred people, as we had that night. Our lectures and services were being broadcast over a radio sta­tion by remote control. Someone had laid the wires to the microphones and lights in a differ­ent location, without warning me. In stepping forward a few inches while beating time I tripped on the wires and plunged headfirst into the orchestra pit, my head barely missing the corner of a piano. Somehow the Lord helped me to turn a quick somersault and land squarely on my feet unhurt. Women screamed and sev­eral fainted. Fortunately, my choir and pianist had the good training and judgment to keep right on without interruption. Almost quicker than I could think I realized the danger of panic in that filled theater, and instantly re­sumed beating time in leading the music. Step­ping backward slowly and carefully, I made my way back up the stairs onto the stage. By that time the hymn had quieted the audience, and well-trained ushers of good judgment had helped the hysterical women.

Before announcing the next hymn, I quietly explained the cause of the near accident, to re­move curiosity, and to make sure no one would conclude it had been an "act." I assured the audience that I was unhurt, and that the ushers, some of whom were trained nurses, would give the best of care to those who were shocked nervously. We resumed our song service as though nothing had happened. No one was harmed, and the next morning there was a long article in the newspaper telling of the incident, and commending .the orderliness of our theater meetings. It was good advertising, and more people came to the next meeting.

I honestly believe, and know from experi­ence, that if we as ministers and workers will have earnest prayer before each meeting opens, asking God's help, He will impress us quickly in every emergency so that we will act wisely and properly in any situation.

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By HAROLD N. WILLIAMS, District Superintendent, Indiana Conference

January 1947

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