The HEARTS ON FIRE Festival is taking the New Age out of Glastonbury. Tony Cummings spoke to the event's Richard Hillard.
As any budding historian will tell you, one of the earliest Celtic communities in Britain was that established at what is now Glastonbury. Glastonbury today, of course, seemingly carries an indelible association with all things New Age. Yet this Somerset town could possibly have been the first place in Britain to hear the Gospel. The legend goes that Joseph Of Arimethea came to Glastonbury, or Avalon as it was then, and buried the Holy Grail (the cup used at the Lord's Supper) there somewhere. If this is history, or fanciful myth, one thing is certain. There were Christians in Glastonbury from very, very early times with the foundation of the old church at St Mary dating back to the first century. By the third century the Celts founded the Lake Village there. Later came the building of the beautiful Glastonbury Abbey, the ruins of which today attract legions of tourists. Not much else of Glastonbury's rich spiritual history remains in evidence today. Many of the flood of visitors who come to Glastonbury and the shops who service them revere not the Celtic Christians but the Celtic pagans. Every kind of new religious fad and ancient religious heresy are today celebrated in Glastonbury and with its countless New Age shops and annual, pagan-orientated rock festival, the ancient town has struggled under a stifling cloak of false religion. But today, God's army is fighting back.
A programme from the BBC's Songs Of Praise last year presented TV viewers with a startling spectacle. Thousands of Christians, praising Jesus, with pop and 'rock, in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. The Hearts On Fire festival, now in its fourth year, due to take 'place this year on July 19th, is the vision of a Glastonbury shoe designer and his wife, Richard and Helen Hillard. Says Richard, "We have a vision to see Christians around this country lay hold of Glastonbury and to pray for the turning of this town again to Jesus. Our vision is that the Christian heritage of this place might return once again and the influence that flows from this town around the world might be an influence for Jesus, and not for legend, zodiac and New Age."
Hearts On Fire has grown steadily since its inception. Featuring a March For Jesus through the town in the morning, musical events in subsidiary venues in the afternoon and with a full scale celebration in the Glastonbury Abbey ruins in the evening, Richard has faith for up to 6,000 Christians to attend this year's event. The acts already booked for Hearts On Fire '97 include Dave Bilbrough, Sue Rinaldi, Jakes Ladder Theatre Company and Loose Goose. The latter were one of the hits of last year's festival. "The New Age folk are particularly drawn to Celtic music so it makes a lot of sense to present some Jesus-centred Celtic music at Hearts On Fire. Caroline Stilwell (Loose Goose's lead singer) is a dear sister and she has a real vision, like us, to see Glastonbury reclaimed for Christ."
Pioneering Hearts On Fire has been costly. As well as the enormous demands of so boldly confronting the spiritual powers of darkness, Richard and Helen have had to fight a great deal of local church apathy that only now, with the high profile Graham Kendrick/Songs Of Praise exposure is beginning to be overcome. Richard, a far from wealthy man, admits to being £13,000 in debt up to this point in putting on Hearts On Fire and is looking for a record attendance this year to bite into the deficit. But as he says, "God didn't tell Helen and I it would be easy. We have to believe that God WILL supply the need. We are seeing the spiritual atmosphere begin to change in a place that has been so dark. The worth of that is priceless."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.