THE coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation of almost all of the main Christian events over the coming months, pushing some conference and festival organisers to the brink of financial collapse.
Since the Government announced the lockdown measures, requiring people to stay mostly indoors, several events over Easter and the summer holidays have been called off.
The Lambeth Conference, which would have gathered Anglican bishops from around the world, and which was last held in 2008, was cancelled on Monday. The Archbishop of Canterbury announced that it would be postponed for a year, to 2021.
Last week, Spring Harvest announced that it had cancelled all four of its conferences that were due to take place in April. Everyone booked on to the event would receive a refund, the organisers said, but they planned to livestream some of the addresses that were planned for the events.
The financial consequences for Spring Harvest were grave, the organisation’s chairman, Gavin Calver, said. “We are in an unprecedented situation,” he told those who had booked, in a message posted online. “Please would you consider donating some of your refund to ensure that Spring Harvest’s unique ministry continues?”
A similar plea came from New Wine, which cancelled its summer family events. They said that anyone who had bought a ticket would receive a refund, minus their deposit, if they asked for one. But there were large sums of money already spent by the organisers that they could not recoup. If everyone who had booked asked for a refund, it would cost New Wine £1 million, and put the organisation’s future at risk.
“In offering refunds, we are placing ourselves in your hands and under God’s provision,” their statement said, concluding with a plea for those who could afford it not to request a refund, but rather to give more money to cover the financial hit caused by others who did claim a refund.
The Big Church Day Out, which was due to take place over the late May Bank Holiday weekend, has also been cancelled; the organisers said that they would return in 2021.
This decision would cost about £500,000, however, leaving Big Church Day Out in a “precarious financial position”, the organisers said, as much of the money for this year’s festival was already spent, and their insurance did not cover the “extraordinary circumstances” of the pandemic.
Their statement, posted online, did not explain whether those who had bought tickets would be refunded, but it did ask for donations to help survive the pandemic and to “help secure the future” of Big Church Day Out.
Word Alive, another conference that was to take place over the Easter break, announced last week that the Pontins holiday park which hosts the event was closed because of the pandemic. They said that they would give more information on refunds once they had spoken with Pontins in more detail.
On Monday, the Keswick Convention, which has been meeting in the Lake District town each summer since 1875, was also cancelled. The conference does not charge admission and instead relies on donations; so its long-term future is not threatened by the cancellation this year, the director of the convention, James Robson, said in a statement. Some of the content planned for the July events could be delivered digitally, he said.
In addition to the cancellation of events, Christian Aid’s annual fund-raising week in May — during which thousands of supporters go door to door collecting donations, supported by hundreds of events in churches — cannot happen in the same way this year, the charity’s chief executive, Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, said in a statement.
Christian Aid Week was the aid agency’s single most significant fund-raiser, however, and the charity was looking at ways to allow the event to continue in a different form, she wrote. The charity is investigating ways of contacting supporters and donors through the postal service, text messages, and the internet.
The Children’s Society has also had to close its 106 shops, which raise millions of pounds for the charity each year, its chief executive, Mark Russell, said this week.
“Like many charities, we are concerned about our ability to fund our work at the current time, particularly as we might expect more young people to need our help,” he said. He added a plea for any supporters who were able to help to contact the Children’s Society.
Not every summer festival has been called off. In a statement last week, Greenbelt, due to take place over the August Bank Holiday weekend, said that, for now, the 2020 event remained on.
“We know that public health advice is evolving from hour-to-hour; so we are aware that everything could change very quickly,” the organisers said on their website. “Putting on a festival has always been an act of faith. . .
“Our festival is right at the end of August, so while we’re constantly checking in with the latest guidance from the UK government and Public Health England, we’re still working hard to bring you a festival and line-up to remember.”
Another festival planned for August, the youth-focused New Day, also said that, at the moment, Covid-19 had not changed their plans for 2020, although this could change. The organisers urged anyone who was considering going to book in order to help the cash flow needed to complete preparations for the event. If it was cancelled, everyone would be given a full refund, New Day promised.
The Focus festival, which is put on each year for the Holy Trinity, Brompton, network of churches, is currently still due to go ahead in July. The organisers said that they were constantly monitoring the latest public health advice from the Government.