Soaked at New Wine (again)
"Expectancy," mused pentecostal pioneer, Edwin Louis Cole, "is the atmosphere for miracles."
I could have done with a miracle on Sunday as both soaked and frozen I arrived at Hub 1 to find a small crowd huddled around the entrance to the marquee: the seminar was already full. Too many of us had turned up to hear ex-Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, along with Andy Flannagan, influential leader of 'Christians on the Left' address the contemporary issue of Brexit.
There was no point hanging about in the heavy rain and so in water-logged trainers I squelched back to Silver 3, all of 800 metres in the mud. "Sometimes," I thought, "it pays to be early."
You have probably guessed by now that this is my annual blog from New Wine, now relocated from storm-tossed Shepton Mallet to precipitatious Peterborough. Talking to one of the hard-working stewards last night, it seems that there are 14,500 onsite, not counting some 1500 volunteers. To say the least, it's a huge undertaking.
We first started going to New Wine in 1994. I remember it well as the hurricane battered the Bath and Wells Showground, blowing down our tent with the result we spent the rest of the night sleeping in the back of our Space Wagon. Our teenage daughters were okay in their two-man tents, so that as one of them emerged the following morning into a scene of utter devastation with entire families homeless and grown men weeping, to ask the immortal question "Has anyone seen my hair dryer?"
Looking back over the years it has all been worth it, though not necessarily obvious at the time. From experience I have discovered how very important a summer Christian conference or camp has been for the formation of my discipleship, starting some 55 years ago with the Covenanter camp at Criccieth. Totally indispensable, and so it's a commitment I've made more or less every year since.
In fact, this was how Jesus was brought up. Gospel writer Luke tells us how each year his parents took him to the Passover Festival along with friends and neighbours, and because this was in Jerusalem it meant a 70 mile trek each way, though presumably not in the rain.
However, this year, because I left it too late in organising a rental caravan, we are in a very swish motor home. You simply push buttons and things happen, like our bed being lowered from the ceiling just like in Capernaum when Jesus healed the paralysed man. (Mark 2:4).
As you would expect, the rental is costing us an arm and a leg - but sometimes to give God time and space you just have to make the investment. I don't know whether the friends of the paralysed man offered to pay for the repair of the roof - but I guess, whatever the cost, they thought it a price worth paying so that their friend could meet with Jesus.
You may be aware of how the Old Testament stipulates a second tithe, the first 10% of the harvest going to support the Levites who ran the Jerusalem temple. This second 10% is to be put aside to fund going to the various annual religious festivals in Jerusalem as well as helping the poor. Motor homes (or their Palestinian equivalent) have to be funded.
The instructions about this tithe are not straight-forward but you can read how you can turn your produce into cash, much easier if it's a long way to Jerusalem. "But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away.) (Deuteronomy 12:24)
In other words coming together as the people of God for a period of worship, fellowship and learning over several days is a necessary investment, not just in time and money but just as importantly in energy and resilience.
Talking about resilience, New Wine is now 30 years old - we've been to most. Another long-term supporter who also has battled through the rain over the years is Archbishop Justin. He writes: "New Wine has known its share of difficulties and failures - struggles to understand why people were not healed, the weaknesses of individuals and our common tendency to sin, pride and self-sufficiency."
However, he continues: "Its point is to celebrate the good things of Jesus Christ and, above all, his promise that we will see greater things. Its aim is to contribute to New Wine's decades-long mission of encouragement and the creation of expectancy that God is on the move, the Holy Spirit is present, life is given and we are moving towards the culmination of all things, in God's good time."
New Wine has its weaknesses, of course. But the one thing which it has in abundance is expectancy, simply expecting God to turn up. This is something which Justin's predecessor at Canterbury, hardly of the New Wine tradition, appreciated, in stark contrast to most church services.
When we meet up in Jesus' name, even if just two of three of us, how expectant are we? Do we actually take Jesus at his word when he promises: "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:19-20)
How he turns up is up to him, not necessarily to be registered by our emotions. But when the Holy Spirit is given time and space, anything is possible. And that is where New Wine is at its best. There may be a remarkable healing or as in the case of Peter, some five years ago, the prompt to start a food bank.
For many this is a time of profound affirmation as we realise that we are loved and valued by the God who made us; for others, a realisation of what the cross of Jesus has accomplished.
Whatever, expectancy gives God space to move, whether in the mundane or miraculous. His Holy Spirit continues to surprise us, even to soak (or baptise) us!