A Grand Day Out at #SH2011

Thanks to Phil’s Treehouse for reminding me that Spring Harvest is currently running at Butlin’s holiday camps in Minehead and Skegness. This annual event is now one of the biggest gatherings of evangelical/charismatic Christians in the UK and has been running for over 30 years. Mrs Tree and I first attended it 27 years ago when our first son was a mere 6 months old. I have to say that it revolutionised my Christian and set me on a trail that eventually led to my ordination as an Anglican deacon and priest. While our two lads were growing up we attended almost every year, often with a number of other people from our church. It provided a programme for all of the family and we learned such a lot from our interaction with other Christians, things that often found their way back to regular life in our church.

In more recent years it has often been difficult to find time off from parish ministry to attend, especially as there are few people in our present congregations who would be able and willing to attend such an event. So Mrs Tree and I have made a practice of making a day trip to Skegness (2 hours or so each way plus a breakfast stop at Lincoln) to sample what is on offer. The experience is rather different from the residential one, but we find it makes good and profitable day out.

Yesterday was that day for this year, and for me was slightly better than last year’s experience. Last year, Phil expressed a couple of things that had bothered him: that the Bible Reading sessions had become entertaining but with little real engagement with the text; and that the musical side of worship was geared towards the most recent product of the band and worship leader. On our brief experiences over the past couple of years I shared those concerns.

A later start to our journey than we had planned, coupled with the A46 improvement project meant we arrived too late to attend the Bible Reading this year. We did, however, attend the Creative Bible Study on Malachi 1:6-2:9, and were impressed by the way in which the session leaders (Andrew Greensell and a woman who didn’t actually introduce herself – perhaps she had done the previous day and didn’t see the need to do so again) approached the material, engaged with the text and helped us to see how aspect could be applied in our own contexts. There were helpful references to Walter Brueggeman’s work in The Poetic Imagination.

At the evening celebration, the music was fairly well chosen and fitted the theme, though with still a heavy emphasis on the leader’s (Ben Cantelon’s) own output. Patrick Regan gave an inspiring talk drawing on his own experiences working with people both in the inner-city (he lives in Peckham Only Fools and Horses country) and in the developing world. God has not abandoned us and is still at work transforming  the lives of individuals and communities.

Mrs. Tree was disappointed with the New Songs Workshop in the afternoon. In earlier years, this tended to be an opportunity for those keen to do so to learn some new songs from the week’s worship leader and band. The quality of the “teaching” might have varied from “we’ll play this through and then you can join in” to the wonderful Geraldine Latty, who used her singing and music teaching skills to brilliant effect some 15 years ago. More recently, however, there seems to have been a lot of confusion over the brief for this session, and it has become unclear what it is for. I understand that yesterday the band played just two of their numbers and then spent the rest of the time talking about the instrumental arrangement and demonstrating what the different instruments did. Attendee participation was very limited, in spite of the fact the many had come expecting to participate. Perhaps the organisers could make it clearer what is expected. If it is to be a workshop then make sure it is – if not, then call it something else.

While this was going on, I attended one of the “Tough Texts” seminars led by Krish Kandiah of the Evangelical Alliance. This one dealt with the Genocide texts (so beloved by Richard Dawkins and other New Atheists to demonstrate what an immoral religion Christianity is). The main focus was on Deuteronomy 20:10-18. While Krish tackled the subject bravely, there were plenty of places where I felt questions were inadequately answered, or not actually asked at all. I may blog separately about this at a later date. In fact, there were a number of assumptions I no longer share about what scripture is, how it works and how/whether we apply it today, and it reminded me that this is also a topic I wish to post about at some length in future.

Perhaps because it is out of school holiday time that this Spring Harvest had a slightly less crowded feel to it. The “marketplace” seemed less extensive and less busy with far fewer people selling the Christian “tat” – t-shirts, badges, CDs etc. this may be down to the recession, but I would be glad if this more scaled-down version became the norm rather than simply a blip.

In between seminars and celebrations, we found time to go swimming, drink tea and coffee, eat and generally have a pleasant and rewarding day. Good weather helped. I hope others will have found it similarly beneficial.