Early April 2017: Butlins at Minehead, Somerset, was bathed in sunshine for the beginning of the annual gathering of Christians across the denominations and the country, known as Spring Harvest. Started in the 1970s, this event still attracts thousands of people who worship together, study the Bible together and relish being challenged by many relevant topics on the Christian life. Talks and seminars are built around a theme each year, this year it was about unity, ‘One for All’. As the programme says:
In our rich diversity we are strongly united by our faith in Jesus Christ, our belief in the Bible and our desire to share the Good News in word and deed. We all know that unity does not come easily to God’s people, deeply committed as we are to our beliefs. So we’ll tackle some of the thorny issues and work out what it means to stay true to our beliefs yet disagree well.
Exploring how to disagree well was the thread running through the week. The scripture that formed the basis of the teaching for the week is John 17:21
… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.John 17:21 NIV
Rev Malcolm Duncan, the Spring Harvest outgoing team leader, has written a book called One for All that explores unity and how Christians can explore being unified, while holding in tension different views and faith practices in a challenging, increasingly secular world.
The format for each day is early prayer, followed by voluntary exercises and a lively warm-up session of drama, interactive worship, dance and music. All ages of children and teens have a morning programme of activities while for most adults the day starts with the Bible Study at 10am in the huge Big Top called Skyline. This year it was led by Krish Kandiah, on the staff of Oxford University and vice-president of Tearfund. He took us through John 17 in a way that helped us to interpret the text and look in depth at Jesus’s words, making it relevant to Christian life today.
After a coffee break we re-assembled in Skyline and were introduced to the day’s theme in chat show style, with seminar speakers being interviewed and setting the scene for the afternoon sessions that were called ‘digging deeper’. Post-lunch the digging deeper was done in smaller groups in different venues, covering a choice of subjects, led by people who work in fields relevant to disability, gender studies, relationships, mission, healing, worship, youth. . . it’s a long list!
During the afternoons the fun fair, pool, shops and eating places on Butlins site are open. Some people go off-site or visit The Hub to explore Christian resources, merchandise, literature, music, DVDs, where Mission organisations have a pitch.
The activities of the day culminate in the nightly Celebration in the Skyline, when there is worship led by an experienced worship leader, scripture, prayer, drama and a talk related to the theme of the week. The two hours seem to fly by! There are shorter and quieter alternatives if preferred. People confined to their chalet can take part via the television link. There is a full programme of after-hours events for those with the stamina to continue until late!
There is something for everyone at Spring Harvest: one can go to as much or as little as they like. The theme is always relevant, challenging and encouraging to Christians to develop their faith and equip them to be enablers when they return. It is refreshing and very encouraging to be among a large, diverse body of people who share a common faith in God and want to learn more from Him and those on the same journey, and be more effective in living out their Christian lives.
Give it consideration for next year!