Want the perfect getaway this summer? Check out our guide to the best of the fests
Despite what some would see as the erosion of Christianity in our culture, some things are too ingrained to remove. I was explaining to my teenage son recently how the blessing given to people as they travelled away, ‘God be with you!’ evolved into ‘Goodbye’. Similarly, ‘holiday’ was originally ‘holy day’, a community break for overworked people to enjoy time off together to celebrate God.
Twenty-first century Brits may tend to leave God out of their breaks, but many Christians still look forward to the friendships and spiritual refreshment that often come with teaching weeks and festivals. As holidays are precious, how can we find the right Christian break and then get the most out of it?
The obvious first step is to know what you are looking for. Often, that is a change. Rural Christians who work hard all year to keep a chapel going may yearn for the solidarity and exuberance of a large event, while someone fed on five-minute sermons every Sunday might relish some meaty hour-long seminars.
If you already wrestle with academic issues all year round as a small group leader, preacher, youth leader or general inveterate thinker, you may want to relax and enjoy some Christ-centred music. This year’s biggest name is Switchfoot, who play England’s Big Church Day Out and Northern Ireland’s Fuel. These two festivals have the summer’s strongest musical line-ups, along with Edinburgh’s close contender, Frenzy, hosting its final event. Leeland, TobyMac, Phil Wickham, NewWorldSon and Downhere are other strong imports, alongside the home-grown talents of Rend Collective Experiment, Brian Houston, Verra Cruz, [dweeb] and L27.
If you’re looking for something a little different, two big festivals bookend the summer, both of which include talks, film, theatre, prayer and campaigning as well as the more standard diet of teaching and worship. Londoners can enjoy the Pentecost Festival at the end of May, with its bursting programme of events. Lectures include Elaine Storkey speaking on how science and technology can be used to meet global human need as opposed to political and military agendas, while Rowan Williams and Jürgen Moltmann are among the prestigious theologians speaking at a Holy Spirit conference at Holy Trinity Brompton. The events build up to a weekend with activist Shane Claiborne (see our profile interview on p16). The programme also includes film, fashion, flower arranging, prayer, music and Manga art, so there really is something for everyone.
Similarly good for all the senses and the spirit is Greenbelt. Its detractors pick on its controversial edges, but any thoughtful engagement with faith this broad will challenge complacency. Those who prefer more straightforward content will still find plenty – if visitors could clone themselves five times they could enjoy several entirely different Greenbelts at once. Bring friends and family with confidence and expectation.
Those little-catered-for Christians who prefer practical worship to singing might consider Newday, where there are opportunities for painting and garden-digging around East Anglia as outworking of the teaching.
If for whatever reason you are unable to get away this year, what about a pic’n’mix festival on the web and at home? For input, many festivals offer MP3 talks by world-renowned speakers. You can stream songs by the featured artists and worship leaders. Then you can go next door and dig your neighbour’s garden!
In the June issue of Christianity magazine:
To choose a festival, first decide how much spare time you have – whether a week, a weekend (p35), or a day (p35). Within these groups, events are shown in date order. They are also colour-coded to help you find what you’re looking for. Some events are bigger than strict colour-coding allows – Newday, for example, is operated by a denomination, but their social action witness gives it a broad enough range to qualify as red. Always use the websites given, as there may have been significant line-up changes since going to press.
Costs listed are guide single adult on-site prices, which (unless stated) exclude booking fees, accommodation, concessions or early booking discounts.
The full listing can be found in the June issue of Christianity magazine, which is out now! See how you can subscribe today