Thursday, 22 April 2010

Feast or Famine – Spring Harvest 2010

I’ve left it a couple of days before blogging about this year’s Spring Harvest in Minehead (week 3) as I wanted to take time to reflect on the experience. We got off to a rather stressed start as my daughter’s mobile phone was pinched by a psychotic seagull on the first morning; a fruitless search for both phone and cseagullulprit ensued, followed by the usual hassle of blocking the SIM card etc. My son wasn’t well on the first full day so I was rather tied to the chalet and dependent on Spring Harvest TV to keep up with events in the Big Top. By day two we were in to the full swing of the SH programme and overall it was a relaxing and refreshing time with the family and a smaller than usual group of friends.

IMG00134-20100418-0954 The programme this year swung between feast and famine; some really good meaty material and some very insubstantial fare. The daily Bible Readings are a key component of Spring Harvest, attracting large audiences for sustained engagement with scripture. This year the readings were led by Danielle Strickland, a Canadian Salvation Army officer based in inner city Melbourne. Danielle is a gifted speaker and evangelist with a great sense of humour and some profound insights. However, I found myself wondering why we had a Bible reading at the beginning of each session because the passages were hardly referred to and served as little more than a spring board for what Danielle had to say. I struggled to work out the themes and left the sessions feeling I’d been entertained but not fed. The same was true of last year’s Bible Readings and I have a real concern that SH may be moving away from the more expository approach. These Bible Readings are becoming more like the talks at the evening Big Top celebrations and it is disappointing. In the past I have been challenged and encouraged by Bible Readings from the likes of Gerard Kelly and Jeff Lucas who have engaged with some difficult texts in a lively and imaginative manner and it would be a real shame to lose this aspect of the programme.

IMG00133-20100418-0951 The evening Big Top celebrations were based on the book of Esther, a bold move given the nature of the material. A highlight of these sessions was the telling of the story each night by the Lacey Theatre Company. The speakers were a mixed bag and though some of the talks were substantial in content and application, others were, frankly, weak and a couple of speakers seemed to be very nervous and almost overwhelmed by the occasion.

The real meat of the teaching was to be found in the seminars. As last year this part of the programme was based around different learning styles; I blogged about the pros and cons of this approach last year and my questions remain. I opted for the Leadership Masterclass sessions led by Jeff Lucas and Neil Hudson and was not disappointed by the quality of the input and reflection on offer. Both leaders have an engaging style and addressed some challenging issues with a lightness of touch. Jeff in particular has the ability to communicate deep insight with what seem to be throw away comments. My approach at SH is to jot down striking phrases to chew over later and these sessions provided most of that material. Take for example the following:

What Would Jesus Do? is a question of crisis not character development.

IMG00128-20100413-1913 As usual the children and young people’s programmes were excellent. As a family we are really grateful for the leadership teams who gave so much time and energy in communicating the love of God. Our kids are already looking forward to next year and my son now knows the story of Esther, when I guess many Christians don’t even know it’s part of the Bible.

IMG00130-20100418-0941 The biggest disappointment of the week was the worship. Last year I thought the worship had taken a step forward with plenty of variety and a creative use of a range of appropriate material. This year the worship took a big step back. A narrow range of songs were used again and again and though the band were very competent musicians it all sounded the same. Loads of Edge type guitar intros reminiscent of U2’s I Will Follow had us playing guess the song and there was little in terms of variety of tempo or content. At times the worship felt like a concert in which we were invited to join in once we had worked out the tune. The worship leader has recently brought out an album, heavily promoted by Spring Harvest, and there was a sense in which the Big Top celebrations were in danger of becoming promotional events. I guess it is inevitable that an artist will push their own material but this was over the top in the Big Top. I longed to sing a more traditional hymn with a bit of depth to the theological content. I do wonder whether SH would be better served avoiding the celebrity big name worship leaders and those with an album to sell.

In between the celebrations, seminars and Bible Readings there was plenty of time for family, food, wine, swimming, the amusement park, go-karting, chatting with friends, watching the footy, reading and some sleep. Despite the reservations I’ve mentioned, we’ll be booking up for next year and look forward to experiencing again the delights of Butlins Minehead.

Details about Spring Harvest 2011 are now available and I think some of my concerns will be addressed. Gerard Kelly writes:

In 2011 Spring Harvest is going ‘back to the Bible’, to explore the treasure chest of texts. We won’t be doing it wistfully, longing for an age long past, but hopefully, positively – looking to the future and knowing that our Creator still speaks… Join us as we free the Bible from the cages we have held it in – and ask the truth of God, in turn, to set us free.


Stuart said...

Thanks for this honest and interesting post, I really got the flavour of the event.

You should really try and find a way to communicate this to the organisers of SH.

Dave Walker said...


I think this is a good and fair assessment. I'd agree with your points on Bible readings, learning zones and worship leaders having heard all the individuals you mention during the last year. Generally I felt Graham Kendrick in Skegness did a better job at including a range of material, although some nights we did sing the same song over and over and over and over...

Dave said...

I think it is possibly luck of the draw. I went to Skeggy week 1 and Steve Chalke was doing the bible readings. Most of the material he used was in the theme book (which he wrote with Alan Mann).

Ocassionally I did wonder what the talk had to do with the passage but towards the end of the talk he managed to pull his threads together. On the whole I found the bible readings very helpful.

I only went to one of the big top meetings by the time I had done the big start, the bible readings, swimming, the fair, the all age celebration I was ready for a break!

Mark Green said...

I too was at Skeggy week 1 and found it a mixed bag. Personally I got a lot out of it, but by going to the seminars - Activist, and Leadership and it has made a difference.
Worship was not what I have expereinced at SH before, took a few days before the band relaxed into it, and they got better, BUT the song choice was not good, once or twice in doing well known songs and hymns they built a real atmosphere of worship, but it did feeel a lot at times like singing along to a performance.
I took my parents for the first time. They had done Easter people for many years, and were equally disappointed in the worship - but they did like the bible study in the morning with Steve Chalke.
Highlight for me though was Tony Campolo in big top - really challenging.
I've not done loads of SH, but do find it better when I can get involved with discussion and interaction rather than sitting back and listening.

Anonymous said...

I think that the 'token' bible reading followed by talk on any topic you like is a common theme at many of these big conferences. Youthwork the Conference was a bit the same last year...Lacey Theatre Co deserve the praise you give them as they are consistently good and their education programme in prisons and in schools are fantastic. I love Vicky Beeching...and am surprised at her lack of variety as she was very good with that at YW the Conf last year. However, from the experience of knowing someone who came to SH and had just released an album, the pressure if often from Kingsway/Survivor records to promote the product rather than the artist themselves.

Sheena (aliaswhensmile) said...

I'm sorry not to have bumped into you Phil, especially at the tweetup as you have summarised well my own thoughts on the week. I'm glad it wasn't just me,although at the time I thought it was! Like you, though, we really had a good time as a family and as a church family which is a huge part of the value of this event for us. Seagulls notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

Interesting overview, Phil: thanks. It must be about 20 years since I last went to SH ... it didn't hit the spot for me then, doesn't sound like it would now. These big glory events are simply not where I'm at, spiritually or theologically (in Dave Walker's cartoon, I'd be one of the people being knocked flying by the enthusiastic arm-wavers).

revsimmy said...

Thanks for the assessment and the questions. I first went to Spring Harvest 26 years ago and we went almost every year while our boys were growing up. For the last five years we have only managed to get to Skegness for one day, but my impressions sbout the Bible readings match yours and those of others here. It's a shame because the Bible readings used to be one of the things that really appealed, and I still particularly remember Jim Graham covering Revelation 1-3.
There were obviously too many Theorists for the venue they chose this year, so pragmatically we attended the Pragmatist session next door. Couldn't see much difference in the style myself.
Tony Campolo was, as ever, brilliant in his afternoon seminar on Strategies to Change the World, which was the best bit for me this year. Good day out, though.

Philip Ritchie said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I recognise that the Spring Harvest experience can be very different between the weeks and between the two sites. I've only really commented on what I detect as trends over the last couple of years and would want to emphasise that as a family we still really enjoy the experience.

Alice, I appreciate what you say about presuure on artists to promote material, particularly if there is an album out. My answer would be not to go for people who have a product to push as worship leaders; worship leading should be just that. Most people book before they know who will be leading the worship and speaking so it's not as if they need the names to draw the punters. Last year Nick Baines had raised a concern about the worship, but at the end of the week commented on how sensitive the worship leading had been. I agreed with him and hoped the trend would continue this time.