At 90, Soper disarms hecklers in the name of God and socialism

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The Independent Online
LORD SOPER could not walk unaided through the crush at Speakers' Corner (left) to his perch above the sign that says 'West London Mission of the Methodist Church', while the crowd sang two choruses of 'Happy Birthday' - but then the birthday yesterday was his 90th.

Once he was in position, leaning forward over the signboard with his wrists crossed, his frailties disappeared as if his body were no more than an instrument he played. He has been preaching here every Sunday for 67 years and some of the hecklers have been coming for almost as long.

'I should like to make an appeal to you,' he said: 'Don't be too mild to me.' And he was wonderfully unfair back, in defence of his gospel of mildness, truth, and wholesale nationalisation.

He had hardly begun to praise his 'fellowship of disagreement' when the first hard question came: 'Prince Charles says he would like to come back as a Tampax. What would you like to be reincarnated as?' shouted Frank Stringer, heckler.

'There are some things I don't want to come back as, because I'd be sure to find you every other day' replied the noble lord. 'Reincarnation is a waste of time.'

'That's what you said in your previous life]' Shouted Mr Stringer. Lord Soper cruised on: 'The teaching of Jesus is to concentrate on this world,' he said.

From the depths of the crowd of around 200 a short, unshaven man in a padded peaked cap started yelling and when Lord Soper did not respond he turned on the crowd: 'I'm surrounded by your geriatric groupies.'

In fact the crowd was very mixed. There were quite a number of old ladies, and a sprinkling of dog-collars, but there was also one man who looked like Boy George and a bearded man who looked a lot like God.

The heckler started shouting over and over 'How many poor people shared your food at Christmas?' until someone took his cap and skimmed it out of the crowd. He left, offering to fight anyone who told him to shut up.

And so back to the Gospels, which as expounded by Lord Soper prohibit both armies and private enterprise. Capitalism, he said, was incompatible with Christianity. Further: 'If you do not believe in Clause Four, you cannot call yourself a socialist.'

Like many prophets, he seemed more cheerful the gloomier his message became. 'I believe that the Christian Church, if it confines itself to personal behaviour, hasn't long to last.' he said with relish. The crowd loved every word, right down to his last sentence: 'I am an evangelist and I shall continue to be one; and I'll be here next week.'

Photograph: Edward Webb

(Photograph omitted)

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