Arthur Stace - The Eternity Man
3 and 4
Rebels and Prophets - The Eternity Man
For further details, type 'Arthur Stace' into any search engine to find many, mainly Australian, sites. Some have details of the man and of the 'Eternity' image. A good general example, with pictures which include the Sydney Bridge lights, can be found at: www.gospelcom.net/realgold/realsydney/historypeople/people.html
For examples of people who have lived outside the constraints of 'normal' behaviour, see Eccentrics by David Weeks and Jamie James (Phoenix Press paperback, 1997, ISBN: 1 857 99396 9).
If appropriate, remind the students about the Collective Worship on King Arthur.
Quite a lot of people fancy being a king and King Arthur the environmental activist is only one of a long line of individuals who have decided to make the fantasy reality. In the 19th century, for example, there was an Emperor of the United States - who was actually a Jewish Englishman called Joshua Abraham Norton. He had a great life parading around San Francisco in a blue uniform with gold epaulettes and a sword.
King Arthur the activist loves his flamboyant way of life. He enjoys appearing as a guest celebrity on TV shows. But not all modern prophets are as extrovert and self-confident as he is. Take Mr Arthur Stace. He was born in Australia, in a slum area of Sydney, in 1884. His parents were alcoholics. His sisters ran a brothel. He could neither read nor write and he earned money by stealing. He joined the army and fought during the First World War, only to be blinded in one eye. By the 1920s he was dirty, homeless and helpless - except when he could get a bottle of methylated spirits, which helped blot things out for a bit.
Then one day, in 1930, Arthur made one last effort to pull himself together. He had wandered into a church and, being impressed by the preacher, converted to Christianity. He stopped drinking and... well, what do you think happened? He started working, founded his own business, became a millionaire and lived in a mansion? Not at all. Arthur got himself a poorly paid job, lived very modestly, and certainly never settled in a high status career. And for the next 37 years he got up at 4 a.m. Every morning, he prayed to God as to where he should start his mission and then set off into the streets of Sydney. Every few yards he would crouch down and, with a piece of chalk, write the word 'Eternity' on the pavement. He spent each day doing this - writing the word 'Eternity' hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of times. It was the only word he could write properly, and it always came out in a beautiful copperplate style.
Arthur Stace was a shy man. Although in later life he took to preaching from a street corner every Saturday night, his general way of approaching people was much more hesitant. But his message was stark. If asked what he was doing, he would explain that humankind was made by God for eternal life, but that whether that life was spent in Heaven or Hell was the Big Question. Generally, he just got on with his job of writing his single-word sermon. He had his problems: for a while he was followed around by someone who kept changing 'Eternity' into 'Maternity'! He developed the large initial 'E' to prevent this. By 10 a.m. he would finish his writing and go to work. The word became familiar to the people of Sydney, though it was only in 1956, when he was spotted by the minister of the Baptist church where he worked as a cleaner, that Arthur's identity became widely known. He died in an old people's home in 1967 aged 84. He left his body to the university and asked that proceeds from its sale should go to charity.
Why remember such a weird person today? If you met him at his work you'd make a wide circle around him in order to avoid contact (wouldn't you?). And, when you think about it, he's no different from any graffiti 'artist' is he? Someone who goes about defacing public property for obscure reasons. O.K., he didn't use paint, but he did start to use wax crayons to give his tag a few more days of life! There's been an explosion of 'tagging' around Britain over the last year. Why do people do it? Ask any teacher and you'd probably get an answer along the lines of 'It's done by people who want to be a 'somebody' but are afraid they're a 'nobody'; it's a way to put their names in lights, an act of defiance against their own insignificance'... Hmmm. It could well be true, though.
Arthur Stace was only too aware that he was a complete nobody - an illiterate drunk who was never going to be a Big Name. But he wasn't worried about that, because he knew that God loved him, had died for him and was going to give him eternal life in Heaven. That was all that mattered.
Ironically, after he died, another down-and-out took to going around the streets scrawling 'Arthur' on the pavements. But the real Arthur, unlike most graffiti artists, never wrote anything that drew attention to himself, not even disguised under a nickname. Arthur Stace always pointed away from himself - to Eternity - to God.
And the real twist was revealed just a few months ago. Years after his death he found fame and achieved what most graffiti artists can only fantasize about - his work was seen by millions of people in blazing light. For on Millennium Eve, at the height of the world's greatest firework display, there appeared on Sydney Harbour Bridge, in gigantic, dazzling, fiery letters, an exact copy of Arthur's copperplate tag; 'Eternity'.
When Jesus lived on earth he often tried to unsettle those people who were concerned with their own self-importance - either because they were rich or because they thought they were holy. On the other hand, he tried to assure and lift up those who were insecure and self-doubting. The example in this reading, often referred to as the Beatitudes, is what Jesus says in the 'Sermon on the Mount'.
Let's take a little time to think about what makes us important - the things we wear? The things we own? The opinions of other people? They all matter, but are they the most important ways of measuring our significance?
'She's a Millionaire' by Catatonia, from the album Equally Cursed and Blessed could be played as the students leave (be aware that some of the words in the last verse might cause a few giggles).