Twelve months ago I came home from a week long Christian conference feeling tired, excited, inspired, damp and muddy. Having got back from the same conference a fortnight ago, I am just as tired, excited and enthused (slightly less damp and muddy due to the mostly glorious weather we’ve been having) but also struck by effect a year in ministry has had upon me. I am very different to who I was a year ago. So although I knew what to expect with New Wine the second time around, the familiar environment brought these changes in myself into sharper focus.
But before I delve into all that, firstly, a recap. What is New Wine and what do we do there?
New Wine is a Christian Conference. It is held for 2 separate weeks in Bath and West Show Ground down south (although next year it will find a new home in Peterborough). About 20,000 people attend across the two weeks and it is organised so that adults can enjoy their own teaching and worship while the kids go to venues designed to engage their specific age group.
I volunteer at the venue for the 8-9 year olds Rock Solid. This year, 400ish children were looked after by a team of 90 volunteers (aged 15-67) and I get to be a pastor to that team. At the beginning of the first week, Rock Solid is transformed from a cow shed into a fully functioning, interactive venue for kids to encounter God. Curtains are hung around the walls, carpets laid on the floor, a stage is built, theme specific decorations are put up along with lights and a sound system. Out of shipping containers come sofas, tables, beanbags, gazebos, a six foot teddybear, several caffeine dispensing machines, mugs, water bottles, resources, pens, paper, costumes and a fully functioning gunge tank, which is only to be rivaled by that of 90s kids TV show, Get Your Own Back.
The team is trained in safeguarding and practice in time for the kids registration. The kids are assigned a group and each group to a ‘colour’. Throughout the week, games are played, points are awarded and the groups become like a little family, and the colours become very competitive! Rock Solid meets twice a day, in the evening and in the morning.
Before each session, there is ‘team time’ where the pastors give a talk to the team so that they can chill before they give out for several hours to 400 very energetic kids. We also pray and worship God. The whole thing is a huge privelage, especially when I get to pray with both adults and kids, and hear some of their stories if they want to chat.
And here is where I noticed a huge difference in myself.
Confidence. I am so much more confident now than I was last year. I am more confident in what I have to say, in the way I engage with people and in leading people as they encounter God in worship, prayer or the Bible.
Grief. I spent a lot of last year feeling like a complete imposter when doing funeral ministry. I felt very young and inexperienced. I was aware that I had never been a chief mourner. ‘I’ve never sat in the front pew at a funeral’, I’d say. But now I have. And now I can’t believe that I was wishing I’d had that experience because it’s really tough. But with a greater understanding of personal grief as well as leading people as they grieve, I truly believe that God is in it. Jesus wept at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, when he died. Even before he brought Lazarus back from the dead, Jesus wept. He felt grief. I find that hugely comforting and I truly believe that he stands with us as we weep at the graves of those we love. He loves them too.
So when I encountered both a grieving child and young person at New Wine, I found myself explaining this to them. I could empathise better, and could speak into the situation with more confidence than last year.
Pastoral Care. Several times in the week, I agreed to be around in the afternoon to chat to anyone who wanted it. There is a general ‘girls pray with girls, boys pray with boys’ rule at New Wine and other evangelical churches. I gave this idea a bit of thought in my MA dissertation and, although I have my misgivings, as the only female team pastor, I had a lot of young women to chat to over the week. Again, it’s a confidence thing, but I found myself able to listen, offer advice and pray better than I did previously. This was aided by prayer stations which help people to engage with God in a more interactive way (see prayer bunting below).
Expectation. I have to say, strangely, that I found myself being much less expectant about what God would do. This may be something to unpack further at another point, but when someone came into the venue having been healed since the previous evening, I genuinely let out some kind of gasp/squeal and clapped my hand to my mouth in disbelief. I was completely overjoyed! But I have never been someone to say with absolute certainty ‘God is going to do something tonight’. I’d rather be delightfully surprised than disappointed.
Self Awareness. I think I know myself a lot better now. I know when I’m tired, I know when I can push myself and when I ought to stop. This New Wine I was in a much better place to learn than I was last year. Last year, I’d been ordained 6 weeks, I’d moved house 8 weeks previously, I was a month away from getting married and I hadn’t had a holiday since March. I was very tired and a bit overwhelmed. But this year, feeling more settled and better rested, I was in a better place to learn and think ‘could we take that concept and make it work at home?’.
The good thing about going to New Wine as a part of work is that I can gather (steal) ideas and come home feeling really inspired. What’s not to be loved about a child coming up to you and saying “I just want to pray that the whole world will know the love of Jesus!”? What’s not to love about encouraging young people to develop their skills as leaders and to see them return a year later with so much more confidence? What’s not to love about 400 children acknowledging that Jesus takes their sins away, and that he wants to be their friend? As tired and mucky as I may be upon returning from New Wine, there is no denying that I am enthused and inspired, ready to see God made known in Formby and Altcar. I’m excited, having been reminded of what God can do, and I’m absolutely buzzing to have a part in that, whatever it looks like.