*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Free festival of the Spirit

by
07 June 2024

This week, Rachel Birkett and Katie Street continue our occasional parish-resources series with an account of the birth and growth of Surfstage

Surfstage

OUR village playing field hosts an annual show: a marquee overflowing with exhibits of locally produced giant turnips, sweet-pea blooms, traditional Victoria sponge cakes (no cream please), and a range of children’s creations — all to the joyful accompaniment of a brass band. As the local pub landlady, I am invited along to provide the liquid refreshment.

It’s a one-day event; and it seemed a waste that, the next day, the marquee stands empty. My sister and I are both sad that God is misunderstood (and sometimes misrepresented) in our culture, and wanted to set the record straight by creating an event to celebrate and share God’s love, with no strings attached.

So, in 2019, we approached the show committee for permission to host an outdoor ecumenical service, which quickly evolved into a music festival fun day (like a mini Big Church Day Out) — something for everyone to enjoy, regardless of where they are or are not on a spiritual journey. Our event needed a name, and we decided on an acronym of “Share UR Faith” . . . Surfstage was born.

 

WE ASSSEMBLED a farm trailer for a stage, and five bands, mostly from churches near by. We hired bouncy castles (which we provided, free of charge) and created a children’s activity trail with a mascot, Roly the Robot.

We recognised the importance of the event looking good. We hand-painted signs, and sewed giant festival flags and half a kilometre of bunting to give the festival its own brand and identity.

On the day, the sun came out, and our village pitch was bathed with a tangible glow of love, joy, and peace. The difference in feel from the previous day’s event was striking . . . and people noticed.

We incorporated a well-being tent, where local charities offered help with eating well, addiction issues, and family life. One of our favourite activities was a prophetic tombola, with cards on which we had written blessings or verses. We witnessed people being astonished by the relevance of the card that they picked out. One person, whose son had recently died tragically, received the words “God is close to those who mourn.” Occasionally, it felt appropriate to pray with participants, but mostly it was light-hearted, no-strings-attached seed-sowing.

The presence of God surpassed our expectations. The big Christian summer camps are full of Christians; Surfstage has the same Spirit-filled atmosphere, but in a field of people mostly who mostly are not. As a mother of grown-up children, I love it when they all come round for dinner, and I think that God feels the same joy when his children get on and work together.

One of the big lessons that we have learned was not necessarily to expect support to come from our existing contacts. We were disappointed when a few doors closed, but that forced us to look further afield for new connections; so the event gained greater scope.

 

THE first Surfstage was in July 2019; the pandemic put a stop to everything in 2020; and, in 2021, the organisers of the village show decided not to run their event. During this time, a 14-acre field adjacent to our pub had come on to the market, and we were fortunate to be able to purchase it. We decided to host Surfstage 2021 on our new land. Although we had some reservations about moving on to private land, there were advantages — not only could we run the event for two days, but, best of all, entry could be free, whereas the village show had needed a gate fee to cover the cost of the marquee.

It is very important to us that the event should be financially accessible, a cost-free alternative for those who can not afford the big-ticket summer festivals. Our whole ethos is generosity. Event-goers cannot understand why they do not need to pay every time their child wants to go on a bouncy castle, or have their face painted; but the process of receiving does something spiritually in a human heart.

We invested heavily in our own stretch marquee to keep the event sustainable. We utilised our tithe to cover additional costs, and, on the day, managed to raise even more money for our chosen charity. In the process, the community was blessed with a fantastic event.

 

SURFSTAGE 2021 was the first event to take place locally after Covid restrictions were lifted, and we were really busy, with more than 2000 visitors. One big difference that we noticed with a two-day event was the Saturday-night breakthrough. We had created a schedule with morning and evening worship celebrations, and the original “fun day” event running in between. We had bands singing worship music alongside secular music, our goal being to eradicate the segregation between “Christian” and everyday life; and, in the evening, we had something like an old-school revival breakthrough, an open heaven that lingered for days.

But it wasn’t easy, and that year was particularly tough. We all broke down in tears during the set-up: there was too much to do, it was too hard, and we were doing all this alongside our full-time jobs. We knew that we were called to personal sacrifice, but it was becoming too much for us, and we began building a core team to share the load of the responsibilities — including people to pray. If you are thinking of building an event, I would advise having a team to begin with.

 

Over the years, we have developed:

  • a “youth village” for secondary-school pupils;
  • activities for adults, including a craft tent;
  • a new stage, to give music greater centrality;
  • a “Spirit Café” (which includes the tombola), making the Holy Spirit more explicitly accessible;
  • camping (for a small fee); and
  • a strapline, “Love is the way, Joy is for sharing, and Peace isn’t just for hippies”.

 

What Next?

We believe that Surfstage is spiritually significant for the outpouring and overflowing of God’s Spirit in the north-west, and we are looking for new locations where we can form partnerships with communities to host mini, one-day Surfstage festivals.

Alternatively, if you would like to create a music festival like this, we would be happy to help; so do, please, get in touch.

 

Rachel Birkett and Katie Street can be contacted at: hello@surfstage.co.uk

This year’s Surfstage festival takes place on 5-7 July. www.surfstage.co.uk

 

 

To create an event like this you need:

  • • to be sure God is asking you to do it, and lots of prayer;

     

     

  • to involve a balanced network of diverse churches. The DNA for an event like this is collaborative, relational, and counter-cultural;
  • communal land — a village green/playing field;
  • a stage, sound system, and some good-quality bands playing a mix of music;
  • a decent bar. This was easy for us as local publicans, but do not skimp on this part as it is a major draw, encouraging into God’s presence people who would never set foot in a church;
  • tea, cake, and food stalls;
  • lots of volunteers; and
  • to work hard: our current step-count champion has reached 50,000 in one day.

 

 

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)