Woolacombe, Devon is the setting for an annual free event, CREATION FEST. Tony Cummings reports, Ian Homer took the photos.
In view of the many cultural differences between the USA and the UK it's astonishing that Woolacombe, North Devon has such an eerie resemblance to Costa Mesa, California. There's the sea, surfing and sunshine (though the latter may not always show up at the Devonshire holiday resort). But there's also Christian music and, more specifically, an ongoing initiative with contemporary Christian music the spearhead for bold evangelism. And in both Costa Mesa and Woolacombe the source of this initiative is the Calvary Chapel stream of churches. It was the pioneering Calvary Chapel who in the early '70s effectively invented contemporary Christian music when a God-breathed revival known as The Jesus Movement saw many hundreds of one time hippies turn to the living God after hearing the Gospel preached by Chuck Smith at the big tent at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Fast forward 35 years to a grassy area, known as Turnpike Cross, on the outskirts of Woolacombe which in August will be the venue for the fourth annual Creation Fest organised by Calvary Chapel. This event has grown in attendance each year and is now regarded as Britain's premier free Christian music event.
The line up for Creation Fest '05, to be held from 5th to 7th August, looks particularly strong - Philadelphia's hip-hop crew The Cross Movement, NGM rockers Steve, London R&B gospel team Four Kornerz, girl group from Colorado Springs Sonflowerz and rappers MOD are set to appear. Creation Fest are also expanding their skate park and professionals Jud Heald and Jared Lee will be displaying their dazzling displays of spins and moves for the gathered skateboarders. Plus there's the national premiere of a Christian surfing film, Noah's Arc. At its heart, Creation Fest is about evangelism. Phil Pechonis, the pastor of Woolacombe Calvary Chapel and founding father of Creation Fest, admits as much. "It's very much a Kingdom-minded event, a reflection of what the Lord is doing among this 'rising up' generation. Young people can come here to enjoy the music or catch the skating, and they hear the Gospel communicated boldly and with, I believe, an empowering."
Phil estimates that about 30 per cent of the people who attended Creation Fest in 2004 were non-Christians. Phil has a zeal and love for people that I for one find infectious. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, he didn't become a Christian until he was 24. After attending Calvary Chapel, Fort Lauderdale, Florida he had a few near death experiences - including nearly drowning in a surfing accident and a car wreck which helped God get Phil's full attention and appreciate the need to be deeply committed in his Christian faith. By 1994 Phil had moved with his wife to Russia where in Moscow he planted a church. The following year he was back in Florida running a surf superstore and surfboard company. In 2000 at a pastors' conference in Merritt Island, Calvary Chapel's Brian Brodersen (the son-in-law of Chuck Smith) asked Phil to plant a church at Woolacombe. Despite Woolacombe being a popular place with Britain's legion of surfers, Devon is renowned among evangelists for being gospel-resistant and closed to spiritual things. But after what Phil admits was a "rough start", Calvary Chapel Woolacombe gradually began to pull together a viable congregation. "We rented a skate park on Tuesday night and gradually began to impact the lives of the skaters and surfers in the area."
In 2001 God brought an unexpected vision to the embryonic fellowship. Remembers Phil, "A group of us were praying when the Lord gave four of us a vision - a big Christian music concert in Woolacombe. Soon after that I was in Nashville where I met Natalie from the group LaRue. The next thing I knew was LaRue were committing to coming over and playing the event! It just grew from there. Other artists - MIC, Tree63, Alwyn Wall - committed to helping us and before we knew it it had grown into a festival. We didn't expect there to be another one. But the Lord is using this event and making it clear that we need to keep going."
As well as being a key event where people can experience the Gospel communicated with Holy Spirit boldness and a place where believers and non-believers alike can go to hear music by top American and British recording artists, Creation Fest is also a place where people can be reminded of the absolute dependability of the Bible. "One of the messages we need to proclaim boldly today is the authority of Scripture," enthuses Phil. "Alongside the rock'n'roll and hip-hop, alongside the skateboarding, we run seminars that show people how to read and trust their Bibles. We would love to see the Bible come back to the churches. Overall you could say that the message of the Creation Fest is 'fall in love with Jesus and his Word.'"