On a sunny Monday morning in Somerset I found myself looking up the book of Judges. Not a text I have spent a lot of time with. In particular, the section beginning with chapter 6, concerning the warrior-judge Gideon. Andy Blyth, lead Pastor at Holy Trinity, Cheltenham, led the early morning bible studies at New Wine United week 2 this year. Gideon was something of an aside to the main theme. Andy was referencing the small (300 or so!) group gathered at 7:15 am and also the fact that some of those present might belong to congregations that are shrinking, just as Gideon’s army shrank. Small might well be what the Lord is calling us to.
It was a good start for my first time at the main New Wine event of the year. An adult, mature acknowledgment of the reality of church life in the UK. But also deeply understated given the nine thousand or so people at Week 2 this year and the eleven thousand who were at Shepton Mallet for Week One.
New Wine is phenomenal. I attended the Leaders’ Conference in Harrogate earlier this year (and wrote about it here), and a local event in the diocese (of Liverpool). I wanted to find out about New Wine because some fabulous priests in our diocese are involved.
New Wine is committed to supporting and sustaining the local church. The background to the organisation is in the Charismatic Evangelical tradition but the network is now far broader than that. I would recommend anyone to go and experience the week.
On the first day I tried to get to a talk or seminar in every available slot, 7:15, 9:15, 11:15, 2:30, 4:00 and 7:30. Even after one day I realised that my head might explode after that much input. Selectivity is essential.
There are three main venues, the biggest, the Arena; Hungry is intended to be more hipster/millennial; and Impact, more urban, younger. A main speaker spoke over a series of days in each of the venues. I wanted a taste of the whole event so moved around which meant I didn’t hear the whole of anyone’s teaching series, except for New Testament scholar and blogger Ian Paul (@Psephizo) who was teaching in one of the Hubs each afternoon on why Jesus came. Sadly, I had to leave on the Friday (to sort out a dead car) but I look forward to hearing the remaining talks as recordings.
In common with the rest of the Church of England, the gathering was not as racially mixed as might be hoped, and the leadership are entirely white. However, the balance of women to men speakers, presenters and hosts was excellent.
Unlike Taizé and the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage, that I’ve also attended this summer, New Wine is not really a place to take a large group of children or young people; it is a place for families. That in itself was interesting. The issue of how we communicate the gospel to children and young people, how we disciple them, is the key question in my work. In Liverpool we aim to establish new congregations in schools for families. It is to address the fact that children are more likely to persevere as Christians through the difficult teenage years if they have the support of Christian parents. I will certainly be recommending New Wine to Christian families.
The work with children and young people at New Wine is superb. Provision is well made for children with additional needs. The safeguarding practice is second to none. The quality of what is provided is outstanding. I was invited to the team meeting before the Rock Solid venue one evening, and to see the first few minutes of the session. Rock Solid caters for 8-9 year olds and there were approximately 400 at Week Two. Ninety adult volunteers led the groups which children belonged to. The team meeting in itself was fascinating. We are so used in Anglican gatherings to praying at the start of any meeting that we forget that a 30 second Collect may not be enough to really allow the Spirit to work in us. Half an hour of prayer and worship preceded the session of Rock Solid that I attended. It was led by Poppy, a newly ordained priest in the diocese of Liverpool. Impressively, after the soft opening worship song she led a period of 20 minutes of silence. The children’s provision is for two sessions 9:30 – 12 in the morning and 6:45 – 9 in the evening. Leaving parents plenty of time to attend sessions themselves.
Although I would guess that the majority of people present are there in families, I didn’t feel any issue about being there alone. Kate Wharton’s work on singleness means this is readily acknowledged and valued. It was referred to in several settings. I didn’t meet any same sex couples. One speaker I heard referred to ‘same-sex attraction’, the current evangelical way of avoiding LGBT language, but in his session on Sexuality and Culture, Sean Doherty was quite clear about using the word gay in his seminar. I hope to write a separate post about that seminar . I went to New Wine to reflect on Mission and discipling young people and want this post to be about that. In fact I thought there was a really healthy maturity about references to marriage. Several speakers made reference to not making an idol of marriage and the tendency of evangelicals to feel that they have to present as the ideal married couple. Recent events at Willow Creek were more than once referred to as a warning.
The three main venues, although intended to be different in style followed the same pattern for the sessions and generally the music was not dissimilar, although, I am told, it is usually more distinct. You can find plenty of New Wine music on YouTube. The pattern for each session was worship led by a band and worship leaders, usually two people, a major talk and then a time of ministry, praying with individuals who come forward to the front.
A small venue in the camp site area was set up as The Sanctuary, A threefold Office was prayed there each day, and prayer stations allowed people to experience a more contemplative and visual form of prayer. The Office was based on that of the Northumbria Community. It was a bit new-agey and wordy for my tastes but several people told me that it had helped them see the value of liturgy. The Community of St Aidan and St Hilda had a stand in the market place and the new monastic community in Leicester were among the speakers.
‘Old monasticism’ was represented in the ‘Mobile Monastery’ Sister Beverley of the Community of Saint Francis, an old friend of mine, Sister Teresa Mary of the Community of the Sisters of the Church and Brothers Chris and James of the Society of Saint Francis provided a temporary community of Religious. They celebrated the Eucharist at 1pm each day with a good number attending. They were also significant presences around the site throughout the week engaging in conversation with many people.
It is tempting sometimes to think that our traditions in the church reflect some of our personality traits. That may be partly true, but it is also probably the case that there are ways of being an introvert or extrovert Anglo-Catholic just as there are ways of being an introvert or extrovert Evangelical. I am strongly introvert and needed to be careful, as I would on any residential event, to create spaces for myself. Throughout the week I maintained my usual pattern of prayer, Office, Eucharist, Rosary, and lectio. I certainly didn’t feel any dissonance between that and the communal life of New Wine. The Bible studies informed and fed my prayer, as did the worship.
High points for me included talks from Chris Lane, Jo Saxton and Miriam Swaffield. Ian Paul’s teaching, and it was very much teaching, was especially helpful. Why did Jesus Come? This is the core of the gospel. Ian is a brilliant teacher and challenged the notion that because we can say that God is love, we can invert that to love is God. He also challenged the idea that it is ‘all about love’. He showed how the fundamental message of Scripture is of repentance from sin and how we have to get that right if we are going to get Mission right in our time. Ian’s sessions were the most substantially theological of the week, I sometimes wished, at other times, that the engagement with Scripture was less devotional and better informed by academic study.
The high point in the worship for me was the Eucharist in Impact on Wednesday. Several people had warned me that it might not be what I was used to. I thought it was deeply wonderful and utterly powerful. After a period of worship songs there was a wonderful prose-poem performance on the theme of the ‘Gospel is ….’ . Chris Lane followed this with a sermon, before the elements were consecrated with the words of institution. During communion I was moved to tears by singing a wonderful worship song about the Precious Blood.
Reflections on Discipling Children and Young Adults
Powerful learning for me was seeing families talking about and sharing their faith. I would also add the significance of providing really high quality sessions for children and young people that are age appropriate.
Many parishes work incredibly hard on holiday clubs and young people’s activities I wonder if we could pool more of these to ensure that the numbers are large enough to give the experience of belonging to a wider church and also to share resources in order to improve quality. At New Wine I didn’t see anything or hear from children about anything that did not challenge them suitably both spiritually and intellectually. Real learning was going on and every child will have left knowing more about the Christian faith and the Bible than they did before.
I need to reflect more on Ian Paul’s presentations on the core of the gospel. Presenting this in schools is crucial to our task.
Reflections on Renewing Anglo-Catholicism
Two words stand out for me when thinking about what we Anglo-Catholics could learn from New Wine. Passion and impact.
When I read the early Anglo-Catholics there is a deep piety to their faith, and it is a passionate faith. Those pioneers of the slum parishes must have been convincing, persuasive, charismatic preachers. I think we could learn a lot from the preaching at New Wine to improve our preaching. People will listen for much longer than they are normally expected to, if the material is well prepared and well presented. I was struck too by how expository the preaching is, unfolding the words of Scripture. Always making the Scripture the centre of what is being preached and not some clever story, anecdote, personal experience, or ‘thought for the day’. All of this must be based on a total, passionate love for Jesus.
Ministry/prayer to individuals is a major part of the worship at New Wine. I know that when I have led healing services in parishes they are well attended. I would love to see laying on of hands and prayer ministry as a much more regular part of parish life.
Perhaps we make the Mass too much what we do all the time. Again, looking at those early Anglo-Catholics or the Mirfield Missions, devotional activities would often not include the Mass. Mass with everything is one of the unhelpful fruits of the reforms of Vatican 2. How are people going to learn how to pray when they are alone if they only ever pray in church at Mass? I frequently hear that the Mass is evangelistic, I am not so sure.
Music is clearly hugely significant. We have to accept that Victorian hymnody is not an essential part of Catholic worship. In fact hymns are not in any way part of the liturgy of the Mass. The quality of music at New Wine is superb. The choral tradition, organ and choir, is an important part of our tradition and the increase in attendance at cathedrals shows its effectiveness. However, Anglican tradition includes a band of local musicians playing to support congregations singing, see for example this article in the Church Times.
Making more occasions for non-Eucharistic devotions and worship will also mean that our worship can include far more teaching from lay people. In Lewisham I was always struck by how many children at school preached regularly in their Pentecostal churches. Giving young people the opportunity to give testimony is a powerful way of valuing them and their stories. Testimony in general, telling the story of how God is active in our lives will, I am sure, be a major element in renewal. People are searching for something that changes their lives, that makes a real difference.
It may be a stereotype of evangelicals that marriage is idolised, but I found it refreshing to see married couples sharing leading and speaking, this is good modelling for young people. Yes, it would be good to see same-sex couples do so too, but inclusion is not increased by the nervousness in some parts of the church about talking about and celebrating marriage.
Impact: Over and over again at New Wine, there is reference to what difference has been made. These people have come to faith, these people have received healing, these people have had an answer to their prayers. I think this is an element missing from so much of our worship. A real expectation that God does and will act. This too, is a hugely important part of our Anglo Catholic tradition, the expectation that congregations will grow, that people will come to meaningful faith, to relationship with Jesus. The expectation that prayer will make a difference, that people will be healed, that demons will be banished and evil defeated. That miracles will happen.
In an earlier piece I suggested the following list of elements to renew Anglo-Catholicism:
– God-centred, Spirit-filled and Jesus-obsessed;
– lead to the growth of local congregations;
– truly national and local, not London-centred;
– nurture lay leadership;
– based on good organisation and management.
I think I would now add:
–supporting families and encouraging couples
-intentionally supporting singles
-support the development of new congregations
-encourage deeper engagement with and study of Scripture
-based on a traditional theology of salvation
New Wine as a Gift for the Whole Church
I am profoundly grateful to everyone I met at New Wine United. Liverpool diocese friends and colleagues and their families who made me so welcome, the wonderful family who I was camped next door to and who adopted me for the week, old friends and new from around the country. Most of all I am grateful because although I went with the attitude of a guest in someone else’s house I was made to feel at home, that I belonged as a brother in the Lord. It was a great joy to live and pray with so many people living their Christianity seriously. I would recommend New Wine to any serious Christian.
When the Spirit is at work we should take notice. In this week’s Church Times there is an article about (HTB) church plants in Plymouth. No Anglo-Catholics are able to plant like this. We who love the Catholic faith need to open our hearts and minds to the Spirit, to learn from movements like New Wine, to see what we need and can change so that our passionate love for Jesus can help transform the world by bringing people to him.
I very much hope to return to New Wine United next year, in its new venue at Peterborough. The Spirit is moving in our time as he does in every age. I have no doubt that the Spirit is at work through New Wine.
“The Lord is with you,” the angel said to Gideon,”you are a mighty warrior.”
As a headteacher I was deeply aware of the spiritual conflict. The battle between good and evil is often evident in the lives of young people. A refreshing element of New Wine, for me, was the awareness of this conflict and the power that God gives to persevere in the struggle. I have no doubt that the Lord is with New Wine, and that it is a mighty warrior.