Avid readers of my humble blog may have noticed a recent lapse in updates. This, in case you hadn’t read my previous post forewarning about it, was because I have been at Spring Harvest in Minehead, amongst other things. It’s actually been a very busy time over the last week and a half, and Ellie and I are both rather tired! Last Friday we drove down to Deal for a wedding (many congrats to Mr and Mrs P-B!!). It was a lovely service, including some lovely touches such as everyone sharing communion together, which was something I had never seen before, but it worked really well. Ellie and I found ourselves taking mental notes the whole time though, bearing in mind everything that was going on, how things were done, and taking tips for our own wedding! I was nervous enough just being an official photographer for the day, heaven knows how nervous I’ll be when it’s my turn to be the groom!! The photos came out well though, I’m really pleased with them – maybe I’ll have to start a new wing to my web design business, doing wedding photos as well and creating personalised web sites to display them….
After the wedding we drove down to Torquay (a long 7 hour drive) to visit my parents. It was lovely to get back amongst the rolling Devonshire hills and smell that salty sea air again!! And of course it was great to be back with my family again, I’ve missed them lots. We were only staying a couple of nights, so we didn’t get up to much. Dad took a look at my Mini, and generally gave it the all-clear, which was encouraging! Despite my worries, the brakes looked in good condition, though they might be slightly warped by a few 10ths of a millimetre, which would be what’s causing the slight wobbling under certain braking conditions. But nothing to be too concerned about, it’ll still stop! And the engine is sounding healthy too, apparently. It was reassuring to hear from Dad that the noise from the exhaust was actually the intended noise from the exhaust and not the engine pinking – it was what I was expecting, but it’s always good to have these things backed up by a second opinion!
Spring Harvest was fantastic, as always. The journey up was fairly straightforward, and we met up with Sarah and Jon before going off to our bungalows to unpack. Our accommodation was much more posh than in previous years – the decor was more refined, the furniture more comfy, the rooms more spacious, and we also got the luxuries of a toaster and a microwave this year!! Each day followed pretty much the same format, though everything was optional and you could choose to go to as much or as little as you wanted. The day started officially at 9am with the Big Start, a family-oriented service with up-beat songs, drama sketches, and stuff to engage the kids who had been awake since 6am annoying their parents… I didn’t go to any of those, but they actually piped the whole thing into our flat on TV so we could watch it while eating breakfast! Then at 10am started the main teaching session, the Big Picture, which was effectively an hour-long sermon! They were mostly very good though (not as good as last year, in my opinion), and led by a guy called Stephen Gaukroger, who apparently is a well-known Christian author and preacher. He was ok, but not as good as Jeff Lucas last year, and he looked a bit like George Bush! At the same time, elsewhere on the Butlins campus, were several other similar events taking place for young people and other specific age groups. Later, at 11:45am, the whole thing was repeated so that people could go to either or both or choose something different to go to. After a break for lunch the afternoon had two slots for seminars, which covered a broad range of different topics and areas of interest. Again, I don’t think there was quite as much for me this year as in previous years, but I went to a seminar on Science & Creation (very educational and informative), one on Marriage (a little premature perhaps, and didn’t answer the sorts of questions I was expecting, but very useful nonetheless), and two on Worship (led by Dave Bilbrough, good overview but didn’t have much depth, I thought he could have said a lot more in the time he had). And of course if you didn’t want to go to a seminar in that time there was the swimming pool, the fun fair, the beach, football tournaments, shopping, or just time to sit and read or relax. Later, after dinner, everyone met in the big top for the main evening service, which generally very good. The worship was usually led by Tim Hughes (very good), Steve Chalke co-presented the whole lot, and there was a different speaker each evening giving the sermons, which was very interesting. Finally, in the evening, there was a choice of several different ‘entertainment’ events taking place each night, usually by Christian bands or solo artists, but there was also a play by the Lacey Theatre Company about Christmas, which was very funny yet also quite poiniant.
I think for me the most useful part of the week was the worship element. The music at Orchard Baptist Church is great, and we have several very good musicians and some very sensitive and adventurour worship leaders, but Spring Harvest is always top-notch in terms of musical professionalism and spirit-led praise. Tim Hughes led superbly, and I found I could really meet God in those times in a very special way. The experiene of worshipping with 4000 others is something you can’t really explain, and when you combine that with being able to connect with God in such a way as to think it’s just you and Him and no one else, really is incredible! There were times of elation, times of brokenness, times of reassurance, times of humbling, times of extravagance, times of loneliness, times of purification. It was great! More than anything, though, was what God spoke to me about during the week. Music and worship was top of the list, the recurring chorus that God kept singing in my ear. I wrote two and a half songs while I was there (I took my guitar with me), and I really felt this being the sort of thing God was leading me into. He has renewed my passion for it, filled me with inspiration, given me guidance on different approaches, and reminded me that He is the focus and the aim, not my own ability or popularity. Someone asked me during the week whether I would like to be leading worship at Spring Harvest one day – my answer then was yes, but on reflection I think I could only ever accept such an offer if I was absolutely sure it was what God wanted. Fame and fortune does nothing for worship, if anything it detracts from it. We had Daniel Beddingfield join us one evening, supporting one of the initiatives Steve Chalke has set up. Daniel sang us a song at one point, just showing off, and later ‘helped’ Tim lead worship – to be honest I found it more of a distraction than a help, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Tim who had to try to piece it all together and make it work! It all brought home to me that worship is not a performance, it is not about how good the worship leader is, but about how seamlessly the worship leader allows the Holy Spirit to shape the worship experience. I’ll have to bear this in mind, should I be invited to lead worship again at Orchard.
Right, I really should stop writing now, this has turned into something of a mammoth post! Ellie and I are going to the pub shortly to meet some of Ellie’s friends and to celebrate our engagement with them. Tomorrow we are hoping to visit the church and see what it’s like (it’s Ellie’s home church, but I’ve only been there once, and not with a view to getting married there!!). I’m hoping to be back in Wivenhoe on Thursday evening, so if I’ve missed out anything here that I think you should all know, I’ll fill in the gaps then!