A BUTLINS resort would not be Ruth West's first choice for an
Easter break, she admitted. She had, however, made an exception for
Spring Harvest in Minehead, Somerset, and had no regrets.
"It's got everything you want and more," Mrs West, a 33-year-old
schools worker from a Baptist church in Tewkesbury, said. She first
attended Spring Harvest, the annual Christian
holiday-cum-conference, 13 years ago, while still a student.
She and her husband, David, had been lured back last year. "We
wanted a holiday and a break, but something to give a spiritual
impact while we were away."
We were speaking inside the Skyline Pavilion, a large tented
space at the heart of the Butlins Minehead site. Inside were the
usual coffee shops and fast-food outlets; but because this was
Spring Harvest, there was also a stall featuring lavatories you
could buy for an African village.
The T-shirt slogans were also a giveaway: "Jesus is my Homeboy"
and "Keep Psalm and Carry On".
As a line of children marched past, chanting songs and exhorting
us to give to their charity of the week, Mrs West explained the
attraction. "For me, I have enjoyed being immersed in the Bible for
a few days, and the worship times. It builds you up to go back for
whatever your ministry is. You feel strengthened after being
surrounded by that."
Spring Harvest started as a one-week event in Prestatyn, in
Wales, in 1979. This year, it took place over three weeks in
Minehead, and one in Skegness, in Lincolnshire.
The event director of Spring Harvest, Abby Guinness, said that
the aim was to build the Church's confidence in God. "Our theme
this year is about working throughthe creed and our confidence in
God. Our confidence comes from the things that we stick our
faithon. Things that don't change, even as the world is rapidly
Spring Harvest has certainly changed. Twenty-five speakers
filled the roster this year - among them the theologian Dr Paula
Gooder - and there were five different programmes for children from
a few weeks old to 18. Alongside the main teaching plan, there were
seminars on everything from worshipping with flags to coming to
terms with bereavement.
Danielle Parker, aged 55, had come from only a few miles away in
Bridgwater. The draws for her, she said, were the inspiring talks,
the music, and being with so many other Christians.
"This year, we have come with five others from our church, and
spent time together - that's been really positive. For us, this is
an annual holiday, because the financial outlay is sometimes a
struggle; but I think it is well worth it."
Simeon Bright, a 27-year-old community organiser from
Birmingham, said that the week, although tiring, was a welcome
relief from the daily grind of work.
"I find it a real spiritual boost; I really enjoy coming. It's
very thought-provoking, especially going to seminars. One or two
things usually have quite a profound effect on me. This year's been
Ms Guinness and the event's organisers believe that what they
are doing is biblical. "The Church needs resources and equipping
and strengthening. There is a biblical mandate for people to gather
together and worship God in a bigger group. We don't have the
temple; so Butlins will have to do."
This is a theme echoed by many Spring Harvesters. "The feeling
of sitting in the Big Top with all those hundreds of other
Christians - you cannot replace that with online or smaller
conferences," Dawn Brett, aged 52, said.
As a mother of several teenage children, Mary Mills, aged 55,
said that she valued this sense of community. "There's something
about meeting together as fellowship and worshipping with a big
number of people," she said.
"For children, it's really good to see that they are not always
in a minority. To come here and be part of a big crowd, and see
it's not geeky to be a Christian - that strengthens them."
Ms Guinness said that the Church in the UK had never been more
fragmented, but insisted that Spring Harvest was there for
everyone, regardless of a historical trend towards Evangelicalism
at the event.
"Some people would say you to you: 'I want something more
Charismatic, I will go somewhere else,' and others might say the
same but being more conservative. The middle ground can be slightly
more tricky, but we aim to be inclusive and broadminded, and be
there for the whole Church, not just one stream."
The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent - a
long-standing supporter of Spring Harvest, and chairman of the
conference's leadership team - said that the interdenominational
aspect was crucial.
Parts of the Church believed Spring Harvest to be more "rabidly
Charismatic and Evangelical than we actually are", he said.
This push to be broadminded was evident from the conference's
glossy programme. The theme of the week was "unpacking the
Apostle's Creed: the uniting statement of faith of Christians
across generations and denominations".
Bishop Broadbent spoke passionately about his desire not to
build an Evangelical "brand" to rival large church networks such as
Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), in west London.
"If people like HTB and Alpha park their tanks on your lawn,
they have got more going for them in terms of resources. What we do
is try to give a product which enables people to explore what it is
like to be the Church in the UK.
"I think if you're an ordinary church that cannot aspire to be
HTB then we perhaps offer a lot more." But as the Church becomes
older and smaller, Bishop Broadbent said, Spring Harvest would need
to reinvent itself continually, to ensure that it is still
"equipping the Church across the nation" in another 35 years'