A great New Wine – with a tragic postscript

Jen and I spent a week at New Wine a couple of weeks back, and had a most enjoyable time. We camped with the church in Walton (the next one east of Ashcott), and we were warmly welcomed by the team there. Richard & Sharon Knight were the hosts, and we really enjoyed getting to know them, as well as Mike & Karly Robertson, Hannah, and the children and young people who were with them.

The main Bible teaching in the morning was given by RT Kendall. He’s now 82, and first made his name as a preacher at Westminster Chapel where he was the senior minister for 25 years. For me it was refreshing to have a top-quality Bible teacher doing the morning slot: in previous years, speakers have been a bit too light on the Word in their eagerness to be inspiring.

RT Kendall at New Wine

Each of his sermons were masterpieces: and, as we discovered, many had been honed by being given multiple times over the years! These were the topics he spoke on:

  • The importance of ministering in the Word and the Spirit: too often churches prefer one or the other, when we actually need both.
  • The way God answers our prayers depends upon our readiness to receive his answer: we think we’re ready for God to bless us, but often we’re not.
  • The need for total forgiveness in our relationships: this is usually a long process, as we root out the anger and resentment in ourselves.
  • A twofold talk on the importance of tithing – giving God the full 10% of our income – and the importance of being thankful to God. God often blesses the tithing so that our 90% goes further than the original 100%.
  • A look at the end-times based on a radical interpretation of the parable of the ten virgins.

Alister McGrath at New Wine

One of the strengths of New Wine is the wide variety of seminars that take place during the day. It was great to see Alister McGrath being invited to do two of them. He remains an outstanding contributor to the science & faith field, although I sometimes feels he’s a victim of his own success. His pre-eminence gives him a ready market but I’m left feeling he’s not quite reached the breakthrough that could make a lasting contribution.

Gavin Calver at New Wine

One speaker I’ve not heard before, but rather wished that I had, was Gavin Calver: a very gifted communicator who’s also highly intelligent. He was speaking about the need to be confident in the Gospel despite our living in an age of great uncertainty. For example, the word of the year for 2017, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘post-truth‘: the idea that personal feelings are more important than absolute facts. (The definition in the OED is a little subtler in saying that the idea relates specifically to the shaping of public opinion). But, as Calver was pointing out, as Christians we believe in absolute truth and it’s over-riding importance (eg that Jesus really is the risen son of God).

In his second seminar, Calver gave ten tips about how we share the story of Jesus more. Here are three of them:

  • We must not change the substance of the gospel or water it down because we think doing so will make it more palatable.
  • We need to pursue holiness – to stand out from the culture: how we behave differently as Christians speaks volumes to others.
  • We’re all witnesses. Telling the story of Jesus should not be left to a few specialists but should be done by each one of us.

It was a most enjoyable week: inspiring and refreshing, and made even more so by the community of Walton church with whom we camped. The tragic postscript is the sudden and unexpected death of Mike Robertson, whose cheerful and friendly personality helped to make us feel so welcome. He leaves behind his wife Karly and two primary school-aged children. We pray that they will experience the depth of God’s love in this most difficult of times.

Transformations at New Wine

I’ve just come back from another wonderful week at New Wine. One of the exciting things about times like this is seeing how God is transforming the lives of others: it is an event where people are expectant for God to do things, because many have experienced this themselves in the recent past.

Throughout the week I flitted between three groups – I camped with All Saints (Worcester), had supper with friends from Trinity (Cheltenham), and went to the worship with a group from Consuming Fire Ministries (Dine’s Green, Worcester).

Dave, a former biker from Dine’s Green, had been very unsure what to expect at New Wine, but at the end he compared what he experienced with previous festivals: ‘there’s as much fun and friendship at New Wine as at the other festivals, but there’s no drink and no drugs. It shows you don’t need the drink and drugs, you just need God’.

Meeting Philippa Hanna at New Wine - with Les Jevins on hand to record the moment!

Meeting Philippa Hanna at New Wine – with Les Jevins on hand to record the moment!

Les (from Trinity) had been speaking admiringly of the singer Philippa Hanna, so a group of us went to her gig on the Monday evening. I was so impressed that I bought a couple of albums, and then thought, ‘I might as well get them signed’. To my surprise, Les was on hand to photograph the event. (I’m going to have to return the favour!)

The most visually dramatic example of the way God transforms lives was with the ‘cardboard testimonies’ in the Urban Impact venue on Friday night. About a hundred took part in this: below are five of them.



Getting inspiration from the right source

Last week I was up in Harrogate for a few days at the New Wine Leaders’ conference. Never having been to one before, I was unsure what it would be like – but it was actually very inspiring.

Christy Wimber at the New Wine leaders' conference

Christy Wimber was passionate about leaders keeping God as the top priority of their lives

Christy Wimber’s opening talk stressed how important it is for leaders to get their joy and satisfaction primarily from God. If we don’t receive from the Lord enough, we risk placing too much pressure on those around us. Then we are in danger of things like burnout and disillusionment – and we end up as one of the many leaders who fail to finish well. God’s voice has to be the one which is loudest in our lives.

For me Christy’s talk set exactly the right tone for the rest of the conference – but I was surprised at the number who just didn’t connect with what she was saying. I did wonder whether this reflected the fact that too many leaders fall into the very trap that she was warning against…

Jon Tyson was advocating thoughtful cultural engagement

Jon Tyson was advocating thoughtful cultural engagement

One speaker who made a big impression on most people was Jon Tyson, an Australian pastor at Trinity Grace Church in New York. His passion is for churches to engage thoughtfully with the surrounding culture. Too often, evangelical Christians have rejected secular culture where a more intelligent engagement would be far more constructive. He rooted this in a critique of the prevailing theology: evangelicals have held to a truncated view of God’s plans for the world, emphasising the Fall of man and God’s redemption, while neglecting God’s creation and his plans for restoration. This resonated with me because I have read NT Wright making the same basic point.

The most handsomest dude in Harrogate. Who else would I want to photograph?

The most handsomest dude in Harrogate. Who else would I want to photograph?

In practical terms, the seminars on church planting (in one of the ministry streams) were particularly helpful. Michael Moynagh gave a talk based on research that he’s done on Fresh Expressions – and he enthused about their effectiveness at outreach. Thus he found, from studying those in ten dioceses, that 40% regularly attending Fresh Expressions have had no significant church experience before.

One of the central achievements of Moyhagh’s talk was not getting ensnared by the big church versus small church debate which clouds much discussion on this and similar issues. He pointed out that the traditional church planting model – of a large church sending out a team of about 50 to a new area – is highly effective, under certain limited circumstances. Nevertheless, the model which is probably most broadly applicable is one which relies on smaller teams of 6-12 moving into an area, serving the community, listening, and demonstrating God’s love by practical action.

New Wine is seeking to become more effective at resourcing pioneer ministry. I found both Moyngah’s talk and the subsequent one by Gareth Robinson very helpful in enabling me to think through these issues.

The three days there were most enjoyable. There were of course other delights while there – not least sharing enormous naan breads at a local Indian restaurant with Geraint and Debra Hill from CFM in Dine’s Green!

Michael Moynagh enthused about the effectiveness of Fresh Expressions

Michael Moynagh enthused about the effectiveness of Fresh Expressions

Inspiration at New Wine

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but New Wine this year was most inspiring, yet again. Part of it comes from worshiping God alongside several thousand others – but it’s also about the stimulating teaching and spending time with good friends.

The main arena at New Wine, which holds 5,500 and was full for the main sessions

The main arena at New Wine, which holds 5,500 and was full for the main sessions

One of the main speakers was Robbie Dawkins, a Vineyard pastor from gangland Chicago. He’s a big unit – you wouldn’t mess with him even if he is a pastor! Who could forget his story about the gang leader nicknamed Hitler, who vowed to kill him in Church, who was frozen by the Spirit when he turned up, and then turned to Christ when he was in jail for multiple murders?

It was also exciting to hear about the effect that prayer for healing has had on his area. He was keen to emphasise that when he prays for someone, he does not wait for a word from God to give him permission to do so – he prays and trusts that God will respond. He encouraged us to do the same, saying that too often we hold back for fear of looking stupid.

It was inspiring, in a rather different way, to hear the Bishop of Worcester give one of the seminars – partly because he’s the Bishop in this area, but mainly because of his backstory: of the battle his wife is currently undergoing with cancer. He spoke on ‘Healing: the entirety of the Gospel’, and stressed the need that everyone has for both healing and forgiveness. Both he and Robbie Dawkins stressed that if we think the main arena for God’s healing is in the church, then we’re sadly mistaken – it’s primarily a sign for those that don’t know Christ that he is real, alive and that he loves them.

One of the audience members at that seminar also told us about the healing his wife received after an 18 year battle with multiple sclerosis [read about it here] – it’s a remarkable story.

The worship this year was outstanding, led in particular by Martin Smith. He’s a great performer, certainly, but above all he’s someone keen to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Lively worship in the main arena.

Lively worship in the main arena.

One of the joys of New Wine is spending time with friends, and our section of the Trinity Cheltenham site soon became know for its top-quality dinnertimes!

Matt, Caroline, Lisa, Neil, Lorraine, Les and Judith - relaxing after an evening meal

Matt, Caroline, Lisa, Neil, Lorraine, Les and Judith – relaxing after an evening meal

A contemplative New Wine?

I’ve just come back from a brilliant week at New Wine – despite Thursday’s deluges! Although there was some great teaching in the seminars – some of it at a greater depth than I’ve heard before – there was also some lovely times of fellowship with a terrific group of people!

New Wine buddies tending a barbecue: Simon, Athena, Les, Judith

Throughout the week there was great worship and teaching in Venue 1, one of the two main venues on site, but there was also a large range of seminars during the day. This is one of the strengths of New Wine because it gives the opportunity for a wide range of speakers to tackle a large array of subjects, from the general to the specialist.

For me, two major highlights were Charlie Cleverley’s seminars on Monday and Tuesday. The first of these was on “The dark night of the soul and surviving the desert” – motivated in part by the sudden death in a traffic accident earlier this year of his administrator at St Aldate’s. Deep grief (of one kind or another) is a normal part of life, at some stage for most people. For some reason God allows us to go through this – and thereby to attain spiritual depths which we could not have reached otherwise. Likewise, we may also experience spiritual deserts: having once known God, we now find ourselves groping around for His presence. These are experiences that God will allow us to go through – and to discover the preciousness of leaning on God in the darkness. The ‘dark night’, which John of the Cross speaks about, is when we learn about God’s intimacy.

The following day, Charlie spoke about contemplative prayer. Some of the greatest Christian ministry has been birthed out of people experiencing visions of God, which so transform their experience of who God is that they are impelled to proclaim His love far and wide. These visions are not a product of human activity, but a gift from God himself. He emphasised the sharp contrast between eastern meditation, which is aims to empty the mind, and Christian meditation, in which we fill our minds with scripture. There are three key steps, which run counter to secular western culture, which are essential to cultivating the experience of the presence of God: it’s essential to stop, to slow down completely from the busyness of ordinary life; to look, especially to use scripture as a springboard; and to listen, tuning out from our own minds and tuning into God and what he wants to say and for us to experience. (I’m now reading his book on this subject, “Epiphanies of the Ordinary“, which is brilliant.)

Much as the teaching was good, it was the fellowship with those I was with that made this week so good. I shared a tent with Les Jevins, and Simon Jones pitched next door; we were joined for much of the week by Athena Hay and Judith Beecham. It was a delight and a joy to share the time with such a great group – we blended well! In some ways this whole week epitomised why the last year in Cheltenham was so good – I knew none of the others this time last summer.

On Wednesday, the rest day, I took the opportunity to visit the Shapwick Heath nature reserve – part of a string of reedbeds along the Somerset Levels which are acquiring national fame for rare heron species. I bumped into an RSPB volunteer who said that the problem is that the area is so vast that rare birds could spend weeks there without ever being seen: he mentioned two night herons that he’d spotted flying over last year, never to be seen again.

Earlier this year, Britain’s first ever pair of Great White Egrets bred successfully there; just as the excitment died down, a second pair was reported – and it was these that I went to see. Fortunately a couple of local volunteers had their scopes pointed at the nest, and every so often the large chicks would stand up in their nest, stretch and flap their wings. Then mum arrived, regurgitated food into each of their gullets, and flew off. A wonderful sight!

Being rural and New Wine

Last week I went to a two day conference organised by New Wine, focussing on rural ministry. I thought that it would be a good idea to imbibe some wisdom from those already working in this area – and found it both enjoyable and insightful.

The main speaker was Graham Dow, the former Bishop of Carlisle. He was a compelling speaker to listen to, despite a lack of bells and whistles in his presentation: he has a quiet, understated passion, an honesty, and an acute intelligence that command attention.

Bishop Graham Dow, who was the main speaker at New Wine Rural. (Credit unknown)

Some of the things that he spoke about were normal for Christian ministry anywhere, such as the primacy of prayer, but there are others which are more specific. Having come from an urban environment before going to Carlisle, he observed that kindness is a particularly marked virtue in rural Cumbria, but that there is also a great need for teaching on forgiveness. For example, there are towns and villages which are divided from each other, because they fought on different sides in the civil war! He mentioned Appleby and Kirkby Stephen (which a Google search easily confirms). As I’d heard about this before in west Durham, I recognised that this might be a recurring issue.

He mentioned Healing on the Streets as a ministry which in its usual form might not be obviously applicable, but that the principles behind it remain valid. People get sick in the country as well as in the towns, so prayer for healing is just as important. Likewise, prophetic prayer is another way to connect people with the Holy Spirit.

All in all, I found the two days there most helpful, and feel that I may have gained some helpful wisdom for my own ministry in the future.

20,000 meals under the canvas

“I’ve just had a great time shredding lettuces – it’s very therapeutic!”

Thus Gordon, who had just returned from making salad to feed about a thousand people at New Wine, opened my eyes to the unexpected benefits of food preparation! He and I were part of a group of about sixty who were on the catering team in Shepton Mallet last week; I’d joined along with two others from Trinity, John Linney and Nick Bradshaw. Despite being hard work – we each put in about 50 hours over the seven days – it was enormous fun. Within a day we gelled as a team, which meant that we had great cameraderie over the week.

Breakfast was a comparatively leisurely affair – good for the bleary-eyed!

Half the team would arrive at 6.45 in the morning to start to prepare and serve the breakfast. This was the least stressful meal of the day, with the only difficulty being whether the toasters would function properly for the several hundred slices needed. (I did however discover that porridge Scottish-style, with salt, is tastier than English-style, with sugar…)

Lunch, however, was quite different. The other half of  the team would arrive, and the pressure was on for us all to deliver a full meal to the thousand or so people who were involved in running New Wine. These ranged from the speakers, to the leaders of the wide range of kids’ groups, to stewards, medics and venue hosts. Typical meals included stew or curry with rice, and a sponge pudding for dessert.

Serving lunch to the hordes…

A full catering tent at lunch

Serving the meal required a smoothly-operating human machine. Food was prepared by a designated team of chefs, which was delivered by carriers whose job it was to ensure that the serveries had a constant supply of food trays with minimal interruption. Then there were separate teams for cleaning cutlery, washing plates (with an industrial-sized machine) and scrubbing pots (requiring elbow grease) – while others assisted in food preparation for the early evening meal. It’s an operation that has been finely honed over the 22 years of New Wine.

Part of the privilege of joining the team was meeting the other members. There was a diverse array of backgrounds, including – amongst others – students, teachers, an auditor, a pharmacist and a physiotherapist. However, the best source of unexpected tales was John Parkinson, a lanky, genial Zimbabwean, originally a farmer in his own country who became an agricultural consultant across Africa, and latterly a food security expert.

One day I was woken up in the middle of the night because a baby had fallen into the fire. I’d heard that tea leaves are good for burns, so I emptied half a packet of tea into a pot, brewed it up and then let it cool down.

They thought it was a miracle!

John told the story as sparely as I’ve recorded it here.

Ah yes – shredding lettuces… this is how you do it. You take an iceberg lettuce and you bash it on its base a few times; having done so you can pluck out the core quite easily. You then shred the lettuce, either using a plastic knife (better than a metal one, apparently), or tearing with bear hands, which is more fun. A few days after Gordon told me about this, I had my turn at experiencing the therapeutic vegetable.