By Chris Sugden
Spring Harvest 2016 at Minehead focused on Gamechangers – challenging its 4,500-5,000 people to make an impact in their world. It took place just across the Bristol channel from and within site of the Port Talbot Steelworks.
Spring Harvest’s prime focus is on adults with children, from toddlers to teenagers with lots of worship bands who gradually moderate their volume so that they can actually be heard.
A key image is of 120 scooters outside the primary age children’s venue. Older campers have developed supple hip movements to avoid these speed-artists. Specialist and dedicated youth workers run well thought-through children’s programmes that teach the same themes as the adult programme so that families can discuss what they heard together.
Christian pirates (!) getting children to say “Arrrrr-men” taught the story of Moses (which ran through the week). Sessions on parenting were standing-room only. Non-Christian teenagers appear content to be dragged along for all the extras – five-a-side football competitions and a climbing wall. Where else would they get such a free holiday?
The “all included in the price” access to Butlin’s attractions such as the Funfair and Fun-splash with slides, and large soft play areas are the big draw for many – and were regularly heaving with young people. Safeguarding is taken very seriously indeed. Spring Harvest ticked all the OFSTED boxes before the latest proposals were tabled.
Attractions also for the parents and many grandparents included a sparky late night production of the comedy “The God Particle”, contrasting the tension and attraction between the claims of faith and the paradoxes of time-travel in quantum physics, and between the vicar and female scientist who represent them.
Key matters for Christians were included in the seminar programme with sessions on the persecuted church, and on participation in politics led by President of the Liberal Democrats. Samaritans Purse, Tearfund, Open Doors, the recently formed Churches Mutual Credit Union, Christian CND, Anglican International Development and other aid agencies are all represented in the Exhibition area.
None of the big churches appear to be here – Spring Harvesters are mainly smaller churches, often with their clergy, which would be hard put to run a parish weekend away so for whom Spring Harvest is a major annual resource. Christian friends from years ago and miles apart meet up with surprise and joy.
Disabled access is a priority. Many wheelchairs and buggies are around and roll into the Royal Box area of the Arena for the celebrations. The third week of Minehead will have a special focus on the differently abled and their carers.
My wife and I were last here over 20 years ago with our children when Rob Parsons OBE of Care for the Family was barely past being a teenager! Now we are here with our grandchildren. In the meantime, Butlin’s itself seems to have incorporated the big top, once a windy venue set in a car park as a permanent feature in its site with a vast indoor covered arena in the setting of a town square.
It is hardly worth commenting that men and women are equally represented in the leadership and teaching roles; and that there is a significant presence of black and minority ethnic Christians both as participants and in the Spring Harvest “Team” of up to 600. It is a microcosm of much, though not all, of church life in Southern England.