Open-Air Meetings in D.C.

Special instruction has come to this people regarding outdoor ministry. To this we do well to take earnest heed at this time.

By WILLIAM H. BERGHERM, Minister, Takoma Park, Maryland

Special instruction has come to this people regarding outdoor ministry. To this we do well to take earnest heed at this time. Ours is an outdoor age. Our parks, beaches, highways, outdoor resorts, and outdoor theaters attract their millions. An alert Episcopalian in old Boston was in charge of a church which faced a busy thoroughfare, but inside that church only a few worshiped. He discovered that he could reach thousands by conducting his serv­ices on the steps of the church. He took the gospel to the people, and the plan worked.

How many Adventists meet a similar situation? The answer is clear: "The cities must have more labor. There are places where the people can best be reached by open-air meetings. There are many who can do this line of work, but they must be clad with the whole armor of righteousness. We are altogether too delicate [fastidious, overnice] in our work; yet propriety and sound sense are needed."—Evangelism, p. 586.

The Society of Missionary Men of the Wash­ington, D.C., area have for a number of years beenlooking forward to some type of outdoor work whereby they might reach the public. They found that in the parks of this city the Roman Catholics largely held the field, but they felt that the time had come when this message of the kingdom should be sounded in these highways and byways. Permission was finally obtained this past summer to hold a series of meetings in Meridian Hill Park, on noted Six­teenth Street—a park surrounded by some of Washington's most exclusive hotels and apart­ment houses. Saturday nights were chosen for the meetings.

How to organize and carry on a representa­tive work under these conditions was a real question. We had little precedent to follow, and so we turned again to the instruction given. Here we read that "propriety and sound sense" should guide us. It was felt, therefore, that we should avoid any fly-by-night, soap-box style of meeting in the park. The brethren asked and obtained permission to bring several hundred folding chairs to seat at least a part of the peo­ple. From the office of the park police we learned that by using a long cable we could ob­tain electric power. It was felt that appropriate moving pictures in connection with the meet­, ings would help us attract passing people. To permit the widest visual range for these pic­tures, the brethren constructed a large frame 15 x 15 feet square, to which they attached a large canvas screen so that our pictures could be seen practically from one end of the park to the other. This frame was bolted together, and could be easily set up by the use of supporting props on both sides of the frame.

A portable speaker's stand, a small organ, a high table for the projector, and an ingeniously constructed lamppost which threw the light in all four directions, completed the larger equip­ment. During the sermon these lights were usually turned off, leaving only footlights for the speaker's use.

A number of committees were appointed, to have charge of various responsibilities. A pub­licity committee was appointed for the adver­tising and the distribution of the weekly hand­bills. An arrangements committee had charge of the seating and setting up of the chairs, the screen, etc. There was a technical committee that had charge of the loud speaker, the record­ing programs, and the projector. Also music and personal interest committees were ap­pointed.

Within a few moments the park could be transformed from a bare plot of grass to a well-equipped And nicely appointed outdoor church having 350 seats, a band, an organ, a platform, lights and footlights, and a screen—all in their proper positions. Priests and min­isters of other churches often visited us and were heard making most favorable comments on the efficient organization of the Adventists. We were favored with good weather. Only once did we have to abandon the meeting be­cause of a storm.

The meetings usually began about seven-fif­teen with a program of recorded music which could be heard throughout the park. At seven-thirty song films were thrown on the screen, with words for congregational accompaniment. These colored song films were the final attraction needed to fill up all seats and bring us a crowd, and usually several hundred were standing behind the seats within hearing dis­tance. After the prayer some special music was usually provided, and then a twenty- to twenty-five-minute film was used before the sermon proper. "The Birth of a New World," American Bible Society films, three or four of the Cathedral films, and others were used to good advantage. Our largest attendance came to us the night we used a film entitled "The Land of Promise," loaned to us by the Zionist Organi­zation of America.

Because regulations did not permit our giving out literature on the park premises, we used literature-request cards, and sent the sermon in mimeographed or printed form through the mails. More than five hundred names were re­ceived, and week by week this literature went forth. These cards were systematically filed and arranged in districts for personal visitation. These visits turned into Bible readings in a number of cases. Our Missionary Men became so enthusiastic over the plan during the sum­mer months that some refrained from taking their usual vacations, and others who did so came hurrying back, eager to pitch in and help in the work. None of those connected with the effort were able to give full time to the work, as all were carrying other heavy responsibili­ties.

The Missionary Men invited the co-operation and help of the teachers and students of the Theological Seminary. R. Allan Anderson and his practical theology students rendered valu­able service. The preaching load was borne in the main by Elder Anderson. Many of the stu­dents also served as chairmen of the various committees, and the missionary men felt deeply indebted for the fine support given by the Sem­inary personnel.

As the summer season drew to a close, and the evening chill of the cooler fall season came to Washington, many requested that the meet­ings be continued in another location. This pre­sented a new and unexpected problem to the Missionary Men, the answer to which they sought on their knees. Surrounded as we were with exclusive hotels and apartments houses, it was found that the only ballrooms available were at prices far beyond this group of laymen to meet. One hotel offered us a ballroom at $200 a night. Finally, about two hours before the close of the final outdoor meeting, with a crowd of four hundr'6:I present, a suitable hall was opened to us just three doors from the park gate for only forty dollars a night.

Feeling that the Lord was leading us, we began meetings in this hall. But it soon proved too small, and a larger place was sought. The ballroom of the Hotel 2400 was made available to us, and we changed from Saturday night to Sunday night meetings. An excellent interest has developed, and many are studying the mes­sage, confident it was God who led them to the park to hear His truth for this time.

Already these earnest lay brethren have made arrangements for the use of the park for meet­ings during this summer. God has gone before us, and we must follow His leading. The coun­sel of the Lord concerning this method of reaching men is, clear and unmistakable. We read that Christ "labored in the way in which He desires His workers to labor today. By the sea, on the mountainside, in the streets of the city, His voice was heard explaining the Old Testament Scriptures."—Evangelism, p. 54.

Christ and His apostles were all open-air evangelists. Are we ? If not, why not ?

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By WILLIAM H. BERGHERM, Minister, Takoma Park, Maryland

July 1947

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