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Christian festivals are cancelled, but some organisers still optimistic for summer events

29 January 2021

SPRING HARVEST’s main event is the latest Christian festival to be cancelled for the second year running because of the coronavirus pandemic (News, 22 March 2020).

The Evangelical teaching holiday had been due to go ahead live at Butlins resorts in Lincolnshire and Somerset in April, but the organisers announced last week that they had decided once again to go entirely online for it (News, 11 September 2020).

“This decision hasn’t been made lightly, and is due to the unique and complex nature of the live event with its massive volunteer team, huge children’s programme, and large additional infrastructure,” said Phil Loose, the chief executive of Essential Christian, which runs Spring Harvest.

Although the organisation had spent months working with Butlins to come up with plans for a socially distanced and Covid-secure event, the festival’s director, Abby Guinness, said that they had to admit that it was “no longer viable or responsible to continue with our plans for a physical event”.

She continued: “But we are not caught unawares — we are ready to deliver a bolder and better online Spring Harvest experience.”

Last year, at the start of the first lockdown, Spring Harvest supporters were warned that cancelling the 2020 event at such short notice would cause serious financial damage, and were asked to consider donating some of their refunds back to the organisation to safeguard its future.

Now, more careful planning meant that cancellation did not have the same effect on the balance-sheet, Ms Guinness said, in part thanks to the generosity of supporters who had “kept us afloat” in 2020. Unlike last time, however, the online Spring Harvest could not be offered entirely free.

Many other gatherings planned for 2021 have already been abandoned. Word Alive, which is normally run each Easter at a Pontins resort in North Wales, was called off last year after Wales went into its second lockdown, and non-essential travel was banned. In a statement on its website, the organisers of Word Alive said that, even if Pontins had reopened in time, they could not afford having simultaneously fewer guests and yet larger venues to ensure social distancing.

The Big Church Day Out (BCDO), a worship-led event that normally takes place in early summer, said this month that it, too, had cancelled its 2021 event. “This has never been the outcome that any of us would have wanted,” its founder, Tim Jupp, wrote on its website.“We had the most amazing dreams and plans for May 2021 and such a vision of bringing the church together again.”

BCDO would return for 2022, he pledged, and tickets already bought could be refunded or rolled over to next year.

Newday, a youth-focused summer festival that emerged from the Newfrontiers network of churches, has been called off for the second year in a row, but the organisers promise its in August 2022.

Some are still hoping, however, that the Covid situation will improve in time to make large summer conferences possible. New Wine, the Evangelical festival, announced before Christmas that, alongside a second year of an online offering, they would put on two smaller “camping opportunities”.

Though not fully the usual mixture of worship, teaching, seminars, food, and more, these would still welcome up to 6000 people over two weeks in late July.

The Keswick Convention, whose finances were more shielded than most owing to its policy of relying on donations, not ticket sales, for funding, is also expected to return in July after only a one-year hiatus. The Greenbelt festival is planned for the August Bank Holiday weekend, as usual.

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