Sunday 31st July saw not only the welcome to Hadleigh Temple’s new CO, but the test event for the Olympic mountain bike race at Hadleigh Farm. The latter was a major event involving many agencies. The Salvation Army had two irons in this particular fire. The first was as owner of the land: people were coming to Army property. There was the opportunity to invite them to share in the attractions of the tea room and rare breeds centre.
Several officers and staff from DHQ and THQ were there to evaluate and report on the event.
The second iron is that the Army is a key church in the town of Hadleigh. In that latter guise there was opportunity for evangelism.
But the whole effort didn’t rest on Hadleigh Temple’s shoulders. Churches Together in Hadleigh mobilised a team which took over the field normally used as an overflow car park near to the tearoom.
Because of the intense involvement of The Salvation Army, it was thought fit that an SA officer should chair that team. In the absence of more obvious candidates, the chairmanship was taken on by Captain Andrew Bale, CO at Rayleigh Corps.
Churches from outside of Hadleigh were invited to participate also and contributions from Christians in Southend and Leigh were welcomed.
In the person of Sarah-Jane Alley, The Salvation Army has a specialist evangelist in sports ministry. Working at THQ, Sarah-Jane is the Army’s representative for More Than Gold, an organisation set up to help UK churches make the most of evangelistic opportunities at the games in 2012. Sarah-Jane helped on this group. The Salvation Army is a key part of More Than Gold. For more information, please visit the More than Gold website or watch this 6 minute video.
On the day, the SOS bus from Southend was there to offer help and first aid. It normally goes out to provide aid in Southend town centre Friday and Saturday late nights. There was face painting and crafts – including an opportunity to get stuck in with making things. Then there were refreshments, which were served from The Salvation Army’s Emergency Services trailer.
Southend Vineyard Church were offering prayer and healing and members of Leigh Elim Church were providing music and handing out bottles of water for free; each bottle carried a short text: ‘No water, no life. Know Christ, know life’. There were details of how to contact Contact for Christ, a national organisation set up to receive enquiries from people about the Christian faith and link them up with a local church.
Members of Leigh Elim Church bathed the event in prayer. They cancelled their Sunday morning service and opened the church all day for people who couldn’t get to the farm to be part of the event by praying for it. Elim members took part in a special open-air prayer meeting at Leigh Station on the Saturday morning, arranged by local evangelist Avril Betts-Brown. Hymns were sung and prayers were said for the various aspects of the churches’ ministry. This was followed by a prayer walk from the station to the training centre. Prayers were said out loud all the way. After a refreshment break in the tearoom, further prayers were said on the field for the event. Avril said:
‘In 2012 the eyes of the world will be on little Hadleigh for a short time.The churches have got to make the most of this opportunity’
Local Christian clown Salvo was on hand. Salvo is well known for his skills in balloon modelling and excellent interaction with children.
Specialists from outside the area took part also. Psalm Drummers brought along several drums – mainly djembes (the sort you tap with your fingers) – and invited visitors to have a go. The key thing was to keep in rhythm with the leader rather than bash hard, according to their instructor. Rezurgence, a Christian cycling organisation took along their mobile workshop. Steve Price, an illusionist, performed many tricks and used the opportunity to bring the Christian message to his audience.
Musically, The Salvation Army contributed Rayleigh Band in the morning and Hadleigh Temple Band and Songsters in the afternoon. The churches also ran a minibus shuttle service for helpers from Hadleigh Junior School (which was diverted to Hadleigh Temple for a while to transport the musicians). Other volunteers undertook marshalling and general contact duties.
The tearoom was open with an extra counter to cater for a possible rush which never really materialised. No hot meals were being served, but drinks, ice creams and cakes were in abundance. The good weather made sitting outside under parasols very pleasant.
The Rare Breeds Centre was also open and for the first time in its history waived entrance charges, using collecting boxes for freewill donations.
Because of the nature of the event, fewer people than usual were interested in the animals.
However, quite a few visitors (presumably those who had not managed to obtain tickets) went to the far side of the centre to get the best view they could of the races.
Outside of the churches’ contribution, a very notable addition to the landscape was a bus station in a field.
There were strict restrictions on the number of vehicles allowed on site and roads immediately around the farm were closed. Wider afield in Hadleigh there were parking restrictions, so getting to the site was a bit of a challenge. For ticket holders, by and large this was met by a fleet of red buses. Twenty buses (with another five in reserve) ferried visitors from the park-and-ride site at Waterside Farm, Canvey and rail passengers from Leigh-on-Sea station. The makeshift bus station, on the eastern side of Castle Lane, carried a big banner identifying its location as ‘Hadleigh Farm’. Passengers disembarked and walked along a wide temporary footpath to the north of the training centre, just behind Seaview Terrace, to the bike course.
As might be expected on such an occasion, the police were in attendance, but not in great numbers.
Most noticeable was their helicopter circling the site. Corps News was told that it was filming the crowds to help identify any potential problem crowd control areas to look for when the event takes place for real next year. No such problems were expected this year; however the police were prepared with a riot van on site and four police horses as well as other officers.
As it turned out the horses’ role was more of a public relations one as people came to stroke them and speak to their riders – much to the disdain of two ignored push-bike cops a few yards away.
The sergeant’s white horse was called ‘Major’, which raised a smile with the Salvationists. They explained to the sergeant that The Salvation Army has majors, too. On enquiring of the Salvationists if there were any majors present, the sergeant broke off to bark a command using the horse’s name. Obediently (or coincidentally), Major Geoff Ashdown came over. Right on cue!
Ever the one to put fun into his faith, Major Geoff decided to patronise the face painting tent. Bethany Bale from Rayleigh Corps made an excellent job of the maquillage which Geoff was proud to wear. He was challenged by someone to turn up at the evening meeting at the Temple with his face made up and they’d put extra in the collection. So he did.
Weather for the whole day was good and summery, which helped make the event pleasant. Some 5,000 tickets were sold for the races. Next year, the event will be over two days and 20,000 tickets have been allocated for each day.
Reflecting on the churches’ contribution, Captain Bale said:
‘I think we did quite well in the circumstances. I have congratulated all those who took part. If we had had more funds and co-operation and we could have done better, but within the constraints that we had, it was very good.’