A church weekend with a difference

A Church Weekend with a Difference

Would your church join with others for a weekend away? Christchurch in Newport did, and is now celebrating stronger links with five FIEC churches.

“Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133). This is the text from which Jonathan Thomas preached at the opening session of The Gathering – six churches from South Wales, who’d never met before, getting together to enjoy the gospel and share fellowship.

Meeting at Aberystwyth University over the August bank holiday weekend, we packed our time with singing, playing, listening to excellent preaching and eating (far too much) delicious food. We loved it all, and we can’t wait to do it again!

When I first discussed the idea of doing this, with my fellow friends and pastors Steve Levy at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea, and Jonathan Thomas at Cornerstone Church, Abergavenny, we thought it may be a long shot. But we decided to go ahead anyway, and – by the grace of God, and a lot of hard work from church members – we pulled it off!

Why do this?

Over the past few years, God has been kind to us as pastors. He has given us a number of meaningful friendships with each other as we look to serve the churches in our care. We love our local churches and have wondered for some time if our personal friendships could be extended to our church members.

We considered getting the churches together for an evening or a full day, but, in the end, agreed that three days away together would be the best option. This would look like a church weekend away, but with several churches taking part.

We put the word out to other pastor friends in the area. These were Neil Tallamy at Baglan Community Church, Lee Jones at Gabalfa Baptist Church, and Jonny Raine at Pontrhydyrun Baptist Church. Everyone loved the idea and wanted to join in. So, without really knowing what the holiday would look like, over 700 people from six churches, including a lot of children, booked their places.

What happened?

We arrived on the Saturday in the baking heat, and, over a period of a few hours, everyone arrived and picked up their accommodation keys.

Later that day, everyone headed over to the university’s huge dining rooms for a meal before the first evening meeting.

Neil Tallamy and Jon Roberts, from Christchurch, led us superbly in sung worship over the four meetings with a team of excellent musicians. In the practice beforehand, I had been concerned that the band was too loud. Well, I need not have worried. When the singing began, the band was almost drowned out by the hundreds of voices singing with passion and joy! Many of the university’s staff commented on the singing, and some couldn’t resist taking a peak at what was going on.

The four times we all gathered together were a delight. Along with Jonathan Thomas, Steve Levy preached from Luke 18, and our guest speaker, Mike Reeves, thrilled everybody with the gospel.

But it was all that took place on the university campus that really made the weekend so special. Eating together, children playing and enjoying their own sessions together, teens meeting others from different churches, and our older folk (the most enthusiastic of all!) spending time together was a real joy.

There were inter-church sports events, and lots of opportunities to share stories and start new friendships. In the words of many who attended, it was “the best time I’ve ever had on a church weekend or conference.”

For me personally, watching how everyone was serving one another was a moving experience. It was a few days of encountering Christ-like service and grace from so many, to so many. I was particularly touched by seeing young men from different churches pushing some of our older saints in wheelchairs between the venues and activities. What a glorious demonstration of what the gospel looks like.

What’s next?

Suffice to say, there is a lot of enthusiasm to do this again, maybe with some more local churches that weren’t able to attend this time. We don’t want to wear out the planners and workers, so our current thinking is that we’ll give them a rest next year, and holiday together again in 2021.

In the meantime, friendships have been formed, interest in each other’s churches has been developed, and prayer for other churches is more meaningful. And there’s a desire to connect in smaller inter-church groups.

Despite the fact that The Gathering took six months of planning, we feel that it was definitely worth all the hard work, and we would do it again without hesitation.

Grace abounded. Christ was glorified. The churches were built up in their faith and love. What a pure delight. Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone.

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