I got an email the other day from a good friend who I have not seen for a while asking me about my summer. He is not a Christian but he knows a lot of people who are, and he asked me a question that got me thinking:
“So what’s your poison: new wine, greenbelt, spring harvest? I’ve heard festivals are the new denomination…”
I wondered if this was true. Are festivals the new denominations?
Traditionally, denominations have been the place within which Christians have found an identity, a sense of shared belief and a theological and liturgical framework which best expresses their faith. Spiritually, it has been their home.
As someone who was raised in the C of E, works for the Methodists and attends a Baptist Church, it seems to me that denominational differences mean less and less now. I think the following factors are relevant:
Denominations are so incredibly diverse. The C of E has within its borders a hugely divergent range of traditions from the most charismatic hand-wavers to incense-swinging catholics. And thats just worship styles, the theology ranges from agnostic-liberal to ultra-conservative. No wonder they disagree about so much. But this diversity means that its easy for members to be worn out (or embarrassed) by the in-fighting and long to be part of a group which expresses the distinctives they find important (‘people like us’).
Committed Christians care less about labels and more about mission. The overall decline of church-going means we cannot afford the divisions between the denominations. In many areas the ‘Churches Together’ groups have been transformed from gatherings where clergy chat and plan an annual joint service, into dynamic networks like Transform Newham and Love Streatham who focus on mission which impacts the community. Community projects such as Street Pastors and Foodbanks embody this ‘new ecumenism’.
Denominations do not make sense to young people. I was talking with a student recently and I asked if their university had a ‘Meth Soc’ (Methodist Society) or an ‘Ang Soc’ (Anglican Society). They just looked at me blankly as if I was talking another language. To be fair, these groups were in decline 20 years ago when I was a student but now they seem to have sunk without a trace. Some other students I was talking to, despite being highly committed Christians, didn’t even know what denomination (if any) their church belonged to. The landscape has shifted – and the old differences which divided Christians are not the same ones which matter now.
People are proud of their association with festivals. You can see this with how keen people are to tell you how ‘amazing’ New Wine was, how ‘utterly incredible’ Soul Survivor was or ‘unbelievably muddy’ Greenbelt was (its a festival badge of honour). The vibrancy and sense of identity which people gain from their participation at such events cannot be hidden.
New Wine, Soul Survivor, Greenbelt and Spring Harvest are now much more than annual festivals. They employ permanent staff and have spawned networks and host many events and gatherings throughout the year. Interestingly, many congregations use their association with them as a way of describing the flavour, emphasis and identity of their church.
So, its time for two cheeky R&R polls! Firstly to answer the blog title question, and secondly to find out what festival you would pick if you had a free pass.
Why not leave a comment to explain why you voted as you did? Let’s keep them positive though – explain why one is your favourite, not why you can’t stand the others!
Related posts: The joys of a dirty weekend away: Greenbelt 2012