CHRISTINA KELSO FEBRUARY 12, 2015 CLAY TODAY
ORIGINAL PUBLICATION LINK: PLEIN AIR
MIDDLEBURG – Walking on the lawn of Middleburg’s John E. Hayes Memorial Park, adjacent to the Main Street Boat Ramp a man, who asked to only be referred to as Brother Tim, stopped and softly shuffled the dirt below his feet.
“Would you believe that you’re made of this soil?” he asked. “I can prove it to you.” The human body, he said, is nourished by the earth, by “the potatoes,” “the green beans,” “the corn” that come from it. Their vitamins and minerals keep the body alive and growing until the day that it stops and returns to the soil itself.
A body is an earthly thing, but the soul inside, invisible and untouchable, is something different, he said.
Bringing only a lawn chair and a Bible with him, he stood in the park Feb. 1, between the “earth” and the “heavens,” waiting to “see what God would do” that day to impact the souls of those he would encounter as well as his own.
Two weeks ago, Tim began offering open-air preaching at the popular community park on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., using signs placed throughout the community to welcome people to the service.
The first day, seven people and “many drive-through spectators” attended. The second day there were four. On this particular Sunday, there was a congregation of six. Tom Morris, youth director at The Church of the Good Samaritan on Old Jennings Road attended Tim’s Sunday service with his daughter Maggie Morris.
“It’s a beautiful place and there are people that don’t know Jesus that come here, and to me it’s a way to not be all trapped in our little church walls and be out in the public.”
“It’s a beautiful place and there are people that don’t know Jesus that come here, and to me it’s a way to not be all trapped in our little church walls and be out in the public,” Morris said. “I commend him for coming out and getting outside the walls, because we don’t do that enough in our churches.”
Morris plans to bring his youth group to one of Tim’s future services.
Middleburg resident Linda Rice, saw the signs on the road and decided to come down on Sunday with her brother Earl Sparkman and his children.
“I enjoyed it because it’s a service without being in a church house,” she said. “That’s why we came out, as a different setting for my brother to hear the word. Because, sometimes he feels like he can’t dress for church, but it ain’t about that.”
Tim, who didn’t want to use his last name because he believes his preaching is about God and not him, has been preaching outside in public spaces for 10 years.
“The churches are full of preachers,” he said. “There’s no need for me to be there because it’s quite adequate.”
While “many pastors are called by God” to churches, he said, it was his calling to take a “different avenue.”
“Out here I get to meet the people of the world,” Tim said.
Tim regularly preaches in a variety of public areas, including outside of Jacksonville’s Downtown Courthouse and Ramona Flea Market, as well as on St. Augustine’s St. George Street.
“Preaching in that forum, the word of God gets to move through all lives in different ways,” he said. “I’m not approaching any one sect or belief or individual or thought. God does it all.”
Although he fellowships in several churches, Tim doesn’t affiliate with any particular denomination. He started reading the Bible independently 35 years ago and uses his understandings of it to preach in new situations each time he goes out.
Discussing his beliefs in public comes with an element of fear, he said, but rather than be turned away by fear of what might happen, he chooses to “test the theory” of what will happen.
“What I have seen is great love, great kindness,” he said. “I have got to meet and preach to thousands and thousands of people, not in a fixed audience, but in the people’s seeing and hearing on the streets.”
He hopes that his presence preaching beyond church doors will encourage others to do the same, “that they don’t have to be afraid, that God will be with them,” he said. Recalling a conversation with his father, Tim discussed the importance of first-hand experience in his beliefs.
“I don’t just want to read other men’s stories in the Bible, or other men’s stories that have written their own books or had books written about them,” he said. “I want my own stories and my own testimonies of what I’ve seen God do.”
He said that he continues to find these stories, from seeing “God do great miracles in people’s lives on the sidewalk across the street from a liquor store on 8th Street in Jacksonville” to watching people who initially confronted him with the hostile question of “why he was even there,” change their demeanor and ask to pray together after he replied that he was “there for them.”
“You won’t see that anywhere else,” he said.