I’d never heard of Arthur Stace before a week ago. But that’s because I have never visited, let alone lived in, Sydney, Australia. But he left an extraordinary, even weird, but compelling legacy. For he was converted to Christianity as the result of walking into a Sydney church in 1930 and hearing a sermon by R. B. S. Hammond. Two years later he heard another sermon from John Ridley entitled “echoes of eternity”. These changed Stace’s life. And Aussie singer (now based in the USA) Nathan Tasker has recently written a powerful song about him – which we got to hear it when Nate visited our staff team on last Monday
In the course of that second sermon, Ridley said,
Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it, where will you spend Eternity?”
These would prove crucial in Stace’s decision to tell others about his faith. In an interview, Arthur Stace said
Eternity went ringing through my brain and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write Eternity.
But here’s the extraordinary thing. Arthur Stace was at the time homeless and illiterate. He could barely write his own name ‘Arthur’ legibly. But he started writing the word “Eternity” in chalk on pavements all over the city – and when he did, it came out in a beautiful, smooth copperplate script. They were, I suppose, prototype Banksy’s in a way – for years no one knew who was going around writing it everywhere.
But they would crop up in all kinds of surprising places. But the mystery figure was finally identified and then nicknamed Mr Eternity. Arthur Stace was a World War 1 vet, former alcoholic and petty criminal living on the streets who had now committed to doing this regularly. His routine was unwavering for 35 years, even after he married and had a home to live in. It got people talking and thinking. And then when he died, the chalk graffiti stopped.
But this unconventional, bizarre, but still passionately committed ministry had a lasting effect. Over 30 years later, when Sydney was celebrating the new Millennium in 2000, Stace’s word ended up being lit up in the most prominent and visible way conceivable – in lights on Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Nate’s tribute (on his new album) to Arthur Stace, simply called Eternity, is a fantastic song. You can find out more on his website.