At 83, Stan has visited his local pubs and hotels—and, more recently, a couple of mechanics’ garages—with the War Cry magazine for over 50 years.
After moving to Christchurch from Westport at 20, Stan first got involved in ‘hotel ministry’ while at Christchurch City Salvation Army. As a non-drinker, Stan admits he was nervous the first few times, but looking back says he was inspired by his older brother Jack’s example. Jack was a ‘pub boomer’, as they used to be known, in Westport. Stan cherishes a photo of his brother on a bicycle setting out to visit the pubs, his basket full of War Crys.
When Stan married Lorna, they settled in Sydenham. An elderly lady was visiting hotels in the area, but when she retired a couple of years later, Stan stepped into the role. He has been visiting an average of three hotels a week from 5 pm every Friday ever since.
‘I see visiting the hotels as “taking the church to the public house”,’ Stan explains. ‘Not everyone wants to be engrossed in a conversation with me—some are there with their friends, so they simply say a polite “hello”. But others do want to talk and I’ve had some really good conversations.’
On one occasion, a man asked Stan when Jesus was coming back. Stan explained that Jesus made it clear that ‘no one will know the day or the hour’. ‘My wife knows!’ the man declared, and an interesting chat followed. Another man lectured Stan about how he’d been mistreated by The Salvation Army. ‘And I could only apologise to him,’ Stan recalls.
Stan has officiated at a few funerals for those he’s met in the hotels. Once, people told him he was a deceased woman’s only friend and insisted he do her funeral. ‘I don’t know that I was her “only friend”,’ says Stan. ‘Hopefully I wasn’t. Perhaps they meant I was her only Christian friend.’
Stan has formed some great friendships over the years. ‘As you keep visiting, you get to know people and their interests,’ he says. ‘But it can easily become a social round—you say hello, call people by their names, and then come home and ask yourself: “What have I done for the Kingdom?” Because really, this ministry is an opportunity to carry the Christian message to people personally.’
Stan is full of praise for Lorna’s longstanding support. ‘It’s all very well for me to say, “I’m off to do the Lord’s work”, at five o’clock, but I’m so grateful to Lorna for keeping everything going at home and having a meal ready for me when I get back. Especially when the children were young.’
Stan does feel maybe he hasn’t done a good enough job of letting people know how important this ministry can be, since he hasn’t managed to pass the baton on to anyone else yet. ‘Taking the War Cry to the hotels is about much more than selling the magazine,’ he says. ‘You carry the gospel of Jesus into the hotel. I believe seeds are being sown with the War Cry and through personal appearance and consistency. Most of all, I want people to see that Jesus is their Saviour, because that’s what The Salvation Army is all about.’
He says it’s the ‘grace of God’ that keeps him heading back to the hotels on a Friday night. ‘I’ve had some cancer and heart surgery, and I feel very strongly that the fact that I’m here at all now shows me that God has something still for me to do—and this is one of those purposes.’
By Stan Harris