15 May 2020

God is using this pandemic to break down barriers in the Church and edge us towards revival

It’s an uncertain time for event organisers but many reasons for hope came out of a recent catch up between our National Leader, Paul Harcourt; Event Director of Spring Harvest, Abby Guinness; Chair of Essential Christian who run Spring Harvest, Bishop Pete Broadbent; Vice Chair of Word Alive, Richard Cunningham; General Manager of Festival of Life, Pastor Wale Gibson-White; Founder of Big Church Day Out, Tim Jupp; and Ministry Director of Keswick Ministries, James Robson.

Posted in the blog by New Wine

It’s an uncertain time for event organisers but many reasons for hope came out of a recent catch up between our National Leader, Paul Harcourt; Event Director of Spring Harvest, Abby Guinness; Chair of Essential Christian who run Spring Harvest, Bishop Pete Broadbent; Vice Chair of Word Alive, Richard Cunningham; General Manager of Festival of Life, Pastor Wale Gibson-White; Founder of Big Church Day Out, Tim Jupp; and Ministry Director of Keswick Ministries, James Robson.

Abby Guinness: Spring Harvest is changing dramatically, as are many other Christian events. So, is there a big competition between Christian events and is it a fight to see who comes out on top? Or are we friends?

Wale Gibson-White: I think we’re a family rather than just friends. It’s one body. So we all do what we can to ensure we lift up the gospel in the land.

Paul Harcourt: I think what people might not realize is just how much communication and cooperation goes on. Not only the sharing of speakers, but we’re always sharing systems and logistics. In any other context, organizations like ours that have so much overlap, you’d probably expect us to be competitors after a fairly narrow slice of market share. But it’s not like that at all.

Bishop Pete Broadbent: I think we want the best for each other, don’t we? We’ve found that God has been using all our different events and there’s plenty of space for us all. We’re old friends from a lot of us attending each other’s events as well. There’s a sadness to all of us that we can’t do it in the normal way this year.

Abby Guinness: Obviously we all work with organizations that gather Christians. I think probably, Pastor Wale, yours is the biggest with 40,000 people in the Excel Centre. What is it about gathering together that’s important for the body of Christ?

Wale Gibson-White: The Bible says, ‘Do not forsake the gathering of the brethren’ (Hebrews 10:25). I think gathering gives us personal contact with people and allows to encourage others. We’ve found out over 20 years of being at the Excel Centre that the event allows us to develop and grow people. When people share testimonies, faith increases and miracles happen. It’s something that is a challenge for us this year.

Abby Guinness: Tim, I wonder if I could bring you in as well. Big Church Day Out may be one of the more recently founded gatherings, but is certainly one of the most popular at the moment. So, what is it about gathering? What was it that made you want to get Christians together? What is the benefit to the Church?

Tim Jupp: I think we all love to be part of something bigger. The way we are gathering right now is online for most of us. I think for a lot of us, why we do gatherings is we crave experiences that you can’t get online — the smell of the food, the noise, the interaction with people. I think all of us want to serve the Church by gathering them together. We won’t get to gather in the same way this year, but I don’t worry about that. I know once we’re through this, it’s not like the Church won’t want to gather again.

Abby Guinness: Does anybody want to add to that?

Richard Cunningham: I agree with all that’s been said. As a father of five kids, seeing the impact of things like Word Alive in our case, particularly for one of my children who struggled to own her faith at school. Seeing the event serve her as she came along with loads of other kids her age. She grew up in a church with just a tiny handful of other young people. For a period of five days in our case you can serve the Church by giving them speakers from across the world, touching on or getting quite deep into subjects not always covered in church on Sundays. Churches can send people to get built up in different areas and come together with other churches, cross-fertilize, be inspired and then come back to their local church, hopefully firing on all cylinders.

Abby Guinness: Absolutely. Pete, did you have something to add there?

Bishop Pete Broadbent: We were studying Acts this year at Spring Harvest. We looked at how the early Christians discovered that they were there for the breaking of bread, the fellowship, the sense of being together. In this time of isolation we are realizing the value of being together, even for those of us who are a bit more introverted like me. I know what I’m missing because of all the stuff the Church does, the sacraments, hearing the word and responding to it, ministry and prayer time, worshipping God together in a big number. All those things are calculated to give us a sense of what it means to the body of Christ. What our festivals do is express that in a mega way. It is something that’s absolutely in the middle of the Christian faith. We know what we’re missing now.

James Robson: Keswick has been going for 145 years and from the very beginning, it’s slogan was ‘All one in Christ Jesus’. At this point in time, in the world’s situation, in days of anger and division and mistrust and suspicion it is a joy to gather together around the throne of Christ, around the word of God, to sing his praises, as a very powerful and prophetic witness. And actually the Lord Jesus promises to build his Church and in one sense, mega gatherings, they’re not of the essence. If we didn’t ever happen, God is still going to build his Church, but at this point in time, it communicates in a very powerful way across churches. He’s breaking down barriers. Breaking down divisions, I think is a really powerful witness in our culture and the world.

Abby Guinness: Absolutely. Paul, I was going to ask next, what you think the impact is going to be of all these gatherings stopping for a season? We don’t know how long that season’s going to be, but it goes from Easter weekend, when Festival of Life were meant to be meeting, right through to the end of the summer when New Wine was meant to be. Do you think there’s going to be an impact of that, of having missed a number of gatherings over the year?

Paul Harcourt: Well, I’m sure there will be for all the reasons everybody’s just laid out. I would echo everything that’s been said. When we gather, there’s a sense of knowing that we’re part of something bigger, a sense of pilgrimage. So we’re intentionally coming together and it always seems to be a greenhouse growth moment. But I think, as in everything, God will use this in all sorts of ways, so in the losses they’ll also be a pruning. And I think that will help us recapture fresh, different ways of being together when we can’t physically gather. Different ways of feeling that we’re part of something bigger. It may even break down some of the tribes, because we’re not going to particular places at particular times. Instead, we’re able to connect like this online which is perhaps easier to come together across a broader expression of evangelicalism in the Church. So I’m sure there’s going to be loads of amazing things that will come out of it. But there’s no doubt that when the restrictions lift and the opportunity comes for us to meet together, we’ll be doing that.

Abby Guinness: Very rarely do events ever manage to break even, but it’s not going to be easy for Big Church Day Out.

Tim Jupp: It’s not been easy at all. Some things don’t change because I think every year we’re trusting God to make the books balance. We’re still trusting God to make this whole thing work. But I guess it’s the shock and the speed of everything happening and it happens so fast. We’re treading a path we have never trod before. There’s a trust in God for the money, but there’s also the navigation of going down a road that we’ve never walked down before.

James Robson: The image in my mind is you are on board the deck and there’s a force nine gale and you’re going up and down. You’re trying to reach out to something which is also being buffeted by the wind and you are not sure if you are going to make contact.

Richard Cunningham: One of the things I was really hoping for in this conversation was any combined wisdom as to what we think that landscape will be like.

James Robson: But as you said, for all of us, there are some uncertainties around can we meet. How can that work? When could that start? It might even start in some small way this summer. Might small gatherings be possible? How long will isolation go on? What do you plan for?

Paul Harcourt: I think that one of the things that really helped us make the inevitable decision was that the scale of what we build means that we need medics to volunteer and agreements in place with local GPs and Primary Care Trusts. And we felt we just couldn’t ask that of the NHS. Even if restrictions were lifted, it wouldn’t be right to put people in that position again. So, I think we’ve had to accept the summer has gone. And like everybody else, we’re looking at different ways of delivery and also different ways of how we might shape ourselves.

Wale Gibson-White: I am a great believer of this great revival that is coming to the United Kingdom and from everyone on this call I think I sense a big desire for that. And for that reason alone, what has happened with this pandemic hasn’t caught us unawares. Everyone is not reactive to this at all. What I do see coming out of this, without wanting to sound too joyful about it, but there’s a buzz, a joy, in me that sees us edging closer to revival. People are reaching out and asking for prayer and asking questions. I think there is a great revival around the corner. God, I believe, is using this as another opportunity for us to edge further towards that and unite the Church. I’m optimistic about what is about to happen.

Paul Harcourt: I love the fact that the theme for Spring Harvest this year is Unleashed. I think that might prove to be truly prophetic. I think there’s always the danger in gathering that we become overly reliant on our annual pilgrimage. You know, we have our annual pilgrimage to whatever event it is, whatever it gathers around, and then that will be what we need to survive the rest of the year in the big, bad world. And it just feels, at the moment, that when we get beyond being aware of what we’ve lost, I think we might rediscover what we always have and who we are as the Church. And we will place the emphasis away from going to places that feed us, to knowing how to feed ourselves and how to feed others. And I can see that there could be a real release of confident discipleship as people come back to the core of what it is we have in the Lord. And then all these things will get their right place again as an extra bonus, you know, as an accelerant for what God’s doing in the local churches.

Bishop Pete Broadbent: I would love us to stay in contact on all this because this is great to have our events and others too represented here, but I would love to make sure, given that we’re all in the same boat and all doing the same thing for God and his kingdom that we will carry on talking to each other, praying for each other and seeing what God’s leading us into for 2021 because none of us know for certain. But it would be great if we could discern the way forward and make sure we talk to each other about that.

Tim Jupp: I love to see that there’s already a conversation going on in this nation around unity, which I feel like got louder and louder these last few years, and I’d love to see where does that go after we get through all of this in terms of the Church coming together and people reprioritizing things in their lives. Maybe being prepared to lay things down that even in the Church can be stumbling blocks for each other and what God can do in that. In John 17, Jesus prays that, ‘We may be one that the world may see’ (John 17:23). I think my prayer would be that out of this and however it plays out is that the world may see. That would be my prayer.

Bishop Pete Broadbent: The Church won’t be the same again coming out of this. I think there’s stuff we need to change and we’re learning stuff about how we are relational, but even more importantly, there’s stuff about how we should be unafraid to proclaim the faith and to try and make sure we find opportunities to do that in ways that are responsible and which will make a difference in our society.

Paul Harcourt: I think there’s always a danger, isn’t there, as the Church that we come into our own little bubbles and our relational world where for many Christians their whole life revolves around the Church. It seems at the moment there is this kind of call for us to be going deeper. We’re facing these big issues and so people are coming back to the basic, bedrock truths of the faith about Jesus’ salvation and power over death. I think people are learning to pray again in a way that we haven’t seen for a long time, but at the same time, the need that’s around us makes us aware of what we’ve got and where we’re often learning to love better. Getting beyond seeing the need that’s out there for people who don’t have faith and getting out there and actually saying, ‘We’ve got something to share practically but we’ve got something to share as well, which you can hold onto that will see you through’.

Richard Cunningham: One of the hardest things about grief, in my own limited experience, is that one easily feels isolated. You know, you’ve lost your mother or another close relative, and the world just goes on and nobody’s aware. I don’t know how to say this without sounding glib, but one of the good things that I think will come out of this being a pandemic is that there will be company for the bereaved within communities, within neighborhoods and certainly within Church families. And so there is a sense in which I think we can learn to behave much more as members of our community. And behave like a family and offer that sense of shared journey, with fellow human beings who suffer. And I just wonder whether that’s a real genuine opportunity for us to connect in a much more normal and human way.

Abby Guinness: I suppose that takes us to drawing to a close, but with this forward-looking hope about what the future could and might look like.

Tim Jupp: We would appreciate prayer for wisdom in all of this.

Paul Harcourt: I think the one thing we’re all going to have this year is different insurance conversations.

Wale Gibson-White: Absolutely. I guess another prayer point would be that the Church will come out of this whole pandemic stronger. I think for everyone that must be the prayer, that what the devil has planned as a defeat will turn around to be a platform for the Church to grow stronger. So that scripture, you know, ‘Upon this rock, I shall build my Church and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail’ (Matthew 16:8). I think the Church will get stronger out of this.

James Robson: I’m always challenged in any circumstance to come back to repentance and faith. This isn’t to draw any kind of glib connecting points between these circumstances and our own sin. But to say we’re always called to come back to repentance and faith. To be faithful to him and to be faithful to his word and to keep believing. There have been pandemics before. The key is not to be knocked off course.

Abby Guinness: Thank you for making the time to get together and chat.

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