For those who don't know, New Wine is (or was - see below) a network for church leaders keen to balance 'word and spirit', and who want to transform their churches and their local communities "by the power of the Spirit". Since the 1980's they have also ran a conference during the summer with worship and teaching. The movement's roots go back to the early collaboration between John Wimber and Anglican minister David Pytches (now Bishop).
This was the first time I had gone to New Wine, and apart from a couple of Spring Harvests for work, the first 'bible week' since Stoneleigh in 2001 - where it rained all week and we camped with a 3 year old and a 10 week old!! So off we set with Caravan, Awning, food for 4 days and a GPS unit.
We were heading down a day early on the Saturday, and following six hours on the road with a grumpy 3 year old, including the service station above and an hour stuck in Bristol, we finally arrived after a day full of rain to be greeted with a waterlogged and muddy campsite. I think Mrs M was ready to go home right then, especially when we were told to camp "wherever we could find a dry bit". Located our church group in the chaos created by lack of supervision, found what looked like a level bit of ground that wasn't just mud and proceeded to set things up. New Vicar turned up at the same time, with a trailer tent they had been 'blessed' with and myself, Vicar, his wife and fellow church-member Martin spent the next two hours trying to make sense of a 20-year old collection of bent poles, chipboard and leaking canvas. They felt so blessed by that gift!!!!
Woke up Sunday morning and then watched about a million cars create the perfect water drain direct to our campsite (at the bottom of the hill) as they drove through our bit to get to their areas AT THE TOP OF HILL. You can guess what happened later in the week.
For the main morning and evening sessions there were two option. 'Venue 1' - the larger marquee (about 5,000 at my guess) - which had what could be called 'mainstream' worship mainly by the Trinity Cheltenham team led by Neil Bennets (although David Ruis also did some sessions) and 'Venue 2' which was supposed to be the more contemporary venue. This was pretty much given over to Trent Vineyard and was hosted by them and 'Trent' led all the worship. It wasn't so much more contemporary and a bit louder and with a tighter band doing more of their own material. Still - it was very good!
Opening session in Venue 2 (my choice that night) was an absolutely storming sermon by Simon Ponsonby, Pastor of Theology at St Aldates, Oxford (an old church of mine in David McInnes days). Based on 1 Chronicles 12, he argues that that the church is in a war and should be living like that - engaging in acts that push forward the kingdom of God - His justice, peace and love. Obviously he emphasised the spiritual aspect of this, but it was a masterclass in preaching, taking scripture, contemporary issues facing the church and popular culture (nice bit of post-modern intertextual criticism with Lord of the Rings). If you want a great book on Revelation and the end-times that debunks a lot of the silly 'left behind' stuff, and takes seriously resurrection on a new earth then I would recommend his And The Lamb Wins.
The morning sessions were more bible study focused, with just a short time of worship. Mrs M and I put our youngest into his group and attended the 'Venue 1' series working through Proverbs, called 'Everything Your Parents Should Have Told You (but probably didn't)' by Ohio Vineyard pastor and Jewish convert Rich Nathan. It was excellent - simple biblical insight on wisdom, children, sex, money etc. I only went to one other evening session as we were sharing kiddie duty, and this was also by Rich Nathan.
There was a whole range of seminars to choose form, with leadership, mission, spirituality, relationships and worship 'tracks'. I chose a series by David Mitchell (not of Mitchell and Webb fame I was sad to discover!) from Woodlands church in Bristol. He, along with his family and 23 other people live in a big house in a residential community, and I was really hoping to get to grips with what they were doing, how it worked (and didn't), and to be inspired to get serious about these issues myself. Sad it was all a bit rambling and disorganised - my seminar companion from church and myself left feeling more frustrated than enlightened.
Aahh - the camping! As mentioned, the ground was flooded when we arrived, and rain on the Tuesday meant that there was six inches of standing water all over our area of the campsite. I woke up Wednesday morning to a flooded Awning, and another family found their 2-year-old asleep and freezing cold in a pool of water. Suitcases had been waterlogged, tents flooded, and the ground was a quagmire. The site site were exceedingly unhelpful at this point, and we just had to make a plan to move the tents that needed moving, dry stuff out and help each other out.
A team from New Wine arrived in the afternoon and we dug trenches and pumped around 1,000 gallons of water off our site. The problem was that all the water from the showground was passing our way and the track created by the cars on the Sunday helped direct it just to our door! However, this was a great time of bonding and fellowship, and working with other brothers and sisters to get it done was, in the end, the highlight of the event for me.
- Good new songs from David Ruis, Trent, Trinity Cheltenham, David Gates and Jonny Parks.
- Fine teaching in the morning.
- Wonderful community on our site - I got to do a years worth of relationship building in a week.
- The kids work - just fantastic. So well thought through - a focus on the Kingdom from the pre-school to the 10-11 year olds. They loved it, so I am happy.
- Generosity - just under £90K was taken in the offering this week (plus similar amounts in the other two weeks).
- Good to see a spectrum of the church in one place
- Poor organisation on-site. Few resources to deal with the weather - not enough sand bags, bark chip, pallets/duck board, or even attention!
- Too many Americans & non-Anglicans. There was only one Church-of-England main stage speaker, and only two British ones during the whole week. This isn't a criticism of US speakers (I spent 5 years persuading us 'Brits' to read them more!) or movements outside of the C-of-E (goodness know that we need to hear what God is saying through everyone), but as a UK-based, predominantly Anglican network it would be better to hear more of what is happening in the UK, and biblical exegesis rooted in what we are doing.
- Too many 'stories', not enough Bible in the evening meetings.
- Worship too predictable. Unless you were willing to stay up to listen to a DJ spin worship at 'after hours', then all you got was the usual guitar/keyboard bands playing a variant on rock/pop music for 20 - 45 minutes before a sermon, as if that is the biblical way! As the uniting aspect of New Wine is a Charismatic/Evangelical axis, what about: Celtic liturgy, contemplative spirituality, Franciscan worship, Taize, Messy Church and all the other ways people are exploring charismatic worship.
I had one final thought that has left me a bit disquieted. In a video presentation before one of the offerings, John Coles the director of New Wine made this statement: "New Wine is no longer a network - it is a movement" and emphasised the shift with things such as the new theological training (at undergraduate and post-graduate) as evidence of this. In talking with friends the consensus is that New Wine is positioning itself for a split in the C-of-E. I think that in doing it this it will be encouraging the split to happen. I also think that it may be over-estimating the number of churches that would be wiling to jump ship into the 'lifeboat' of New Wine, especially when the commitment to the Anglican way of doing worship, mission and ministry seems to be in the process of being pushed back at the New Wine public event.
However, the event as it stands was a great opportunity to fellowship, worship and learn from those who are both teachers and practitioners from all over the world. And the biggest thing I take away from this is that my heart has been softened a little and I have fallen more in love with Jesus again - that cannot be denied and makes it all worthwhile, even the mud!