A Festival for Fellowship
We often hear about churches enjoying a joint service every once in a while, but in part of southern England our churches have gone a step further. Richard Underwood reports back from an event in Wiltshire which gathered some of our churches together for an overnight retreat in July.
One thing many rural churches have going for them is space. So it was great to see the sunlit meadow behind North Bradley Baptist Church in Wiltshire filled with tents and caravans for the first Cluster Mini-Fest Weekend.
Part of something bigger
The idea was to give a group of FIEC churches the opportunity to come together to share life through Friday evening to Saturday lunchtime. The inspiration came from Ben Midgley, pastor of North Bradley Baptist, who wanted to give a focus to the fellowship enjoyed by the local cluster of churches around Trowbridge, several of which are quite small.
The leaders of the churches already know each other well, but Ben wanted the congregations to share the experience. Being together for the weekend gave everyone a real sense of belonging to something big – and something good.
Many of the usual features of a festival weekend were in evidence – a camp fire, music, half-erected tents, and barbecued marshmallows. But other elements were uniquely Christian: Jean McDonald from Clink Evangelical Church telling her moving story of how God broke into her life; Clover Todman from Widcombe Baptist Church leading us thoughtfully through an early morning prayer meeting where sleep deprivation made it dangerous to close your eyes; and Reuben Mann from Emmanuel Church Marlborough reminding us helpfully of how gospel partnership and gospel proclamation brought deep joy to the Apostle Paul, even though he was incarcerated in a rough Roman jail.
With loads of kids present, it was good that a youth stream had been laid on for them. A book stall provided by 10ofThose completed the festival menu.
The football was enjoyed by all – especially those not actively involved. It was noted wryly that some of the tackles from FIEC’s Pastoral Ministries Director looked distinctly less than pastoral. More likely to break bones than build bonds!
So what encouraged Ben about the weekend?
“It’s always encouraging to see an army of people stepping up to fulfil all the tasks that need to be done and to see people enjoying the experience of being away from the routine demands of work, home and church to spent time together.”
And what’s the point of this time of fellowship? As Reuben helpfully reminded us: as a family of churches on a mission, our task is not to keep the gospel in but to get the gospel out. That way, more people will get the chance to be part of God’s big glory-fest in the age to come.