Tony Cummings visited Harrogate and Skegness to catch some of the sights and sounds of the long-running worship and teaching events SPRING HARVEST
Down the years Cross Rhythms has journeyed across Britain to file reports on every kind of event where music is wholly or partly part of its activities. Also, in years past, we've visited Holland, New Zealand and will this year make a trip to Germany to report on the international phenomenon that is Christian music.
But strangely, though we've written about and reviewed numerous Spring Harvest worship albums, both live and studio, and have interviewed many of the musicians, producers and worship leaders who made them, we have never travelled to Spring Harvest to experience for ourselves what is unquestionably the most important event in the worldwide development of modern worship music and, if that wasn't enough, the event which has done most to break down Britain's denominational barriers which have kept much of the Church divided.
Music has always been part and parcel of Spring Harvest so alongside bringing together many of the world's finest preachers and Bible teachers it was of course the platform for the post-war Church's greatest songwriter/worship leader Graham Kendrick. It also pioneered children's ministry with people like Ishmael and Doug Horley and as the years went on endeavoured to connect with teenage believers through bands like Split Level and even dance music acts/recordings (though for a season Soul Survivor found a better creative template in connecting with youth).
2019 is Spring Harvest's 40th anniversary. This staggering achievement, which draws in up to 20,000 men, women and children to sites at Skegness, Minehead and Harrogate, is clearly one of the success stories of the British Church and its modern worship celebrations have meant that tens of thousands of churchgoers down the years have found a new and more involving way to worship God.
Tony Cummings took trains to Yorkshire, then to Lincolnshire, to get some fleeting impressions of an event which has contributed so much to the spiritual health of the British Church. Here's what he saw and heard.
HARROGATE DAY THREE - MONDAY 15TH APRIL
I've only been on site for a few minutes, but I'm already confused. Somehow I hadn't picked up on the fact that the Harrogate Spring Harvest is entirely indoors, housed at the labyrinthine Harrogate Convention Centre rather than the holiday camp events which I remembered from many years previously. The Centre is newly built and very plush but has so many levels and side rooms that if it wasn't for the patient guiding of a team member I doubt whether I'd have ever found the place to collect my press pass and programme. Having a coffee close to the desk is Liverpool's worship leader and member of Elim Sound, Ian Yates. I spend a few minutes talking to him.
The theme of Spring Harvest this year is Unlimited: When You Pray. I like the sound of that. Gazing at the impressive selection of prayer events like Prayers For The UK: North and Prayers For The Persecuted Church In Pakistan and seminars like Praying Through Dark Times and the intriguingly titled When I Pray What Does God Do?, I read again the piece in the programme headed Unlimited When You Pray., "This week we will explore the exciting power and potential of prayer. Digging into the Bible, hearing testimonies and getting extremely practical, we'll engage with something that is simultaneously beyond our comprehension and completely within our grasp. Prayer is being with God, alone, with others and for others. It is different motivations, different times, places and personalities. It is turning our heart and ears and faces. There is no right or wrong way to pray. Prayer is peace and warfare. Prayer is being present, listening, waiting, persisting. Prayer is uninhibited but inhabited. Prayer is unpredictable. Prayer is unlimited." After reading such inspiring words, it seems more appropriate to stay where I am and pray for this event rather than go in search of a seminar to attend. So that's what I do.
There's a whole heap of seminars on prayer themes. I find it difficult to choose between Praying Through Dark Times and Power Prayers: Anointing and so finally decide on neither and make my way eventually to Hall C, where there is a seminar already well underway with the intriguing title Challenging The Rich. It's being conducted by Paul Butler, who I later learn is the Bishop of Durham. It's pretty good stuff, too, as he explores how Jesus talked about money and wealth more than any other issue. The good bishop warns us of complacency and ease (Deuteronomy 8:11-18) and Jesus as the transformer of the wealthy (John 4:46-51). I was a little disappointed that the dear man never really got to the nitty-gritty as to how we praying Christians were going to see fat cat bankers and the internet mega-rich transformed - maybe that will happen in the bishop's next seminar on Tuesday.
I sit by the Open Doors stand, munching on a Mars bar and reading Harvest News, a free daily sheet that SH thoughtfully put out which gives a few tips and highlights of the head-spinning variety of things to do at this most eclectic of events. If I'd been here earlier, I could have said hello and enrolled to explore physical theatre and get a Drama Tool Kit; said hello to Tracey Williamson, who was signing her book The Father's Kiss - Tracey being the ministry partner of the blind singer/songwriter Marilyn Baker; taken a trip offsite to Bolton Abbey; or attended the matinee performance of Bob Hartman at the Auditorium. (If any wrinkled rocker reading this gets momentarily excited by glimpsing Mr Hartman's name, let me explain that THIS Bob Hartman is an internationally renowned American story teller who was unleashing his Rhyming Bible book and CD and NOT the founding father of Christian rock pioneers Petra). My musings about authors becoming lyricists finish when I find myself talking to two ladies sat at my table called Rosemary and Sarah. I ask them what has been the standout of their Spring Harvest so far. Immediately Rosemary tells me it was the message by Malcolm Duncan, from Northern Ireland, who was "passionate, knowledgeable and funny." Sarah singles out Lloyd Cooke, who's been extorting Spring Harvesters to Pray For The Nations. I was heartened to hear that, as Lloyd, chief executive of the charity Saltbox, is a Stokie.