Last week I went to a festival. Like any other, there was mud (lots), rain (more), bum bags (or fanny packs, as my Aunty likes to call them), short shorts, wellies, music late into the night and fast food trucks serving every type of cuisine you’d ever want. But, if you’d turned up at Stafford County Showground last week, you’d probably have wondered why the queue for a hot chocolate mountain was about double the length of the queue for a pint. In fact, there were only one or two bars open in the evening. No day drinking for me, then.
But I didn’t go to this festival to day drink. I went to this festival because I’m a Christian and I wanted to spend time working on my faith and hanging out with other people who believe the same things that I do. Maybe your impression of a Christian is as a boring, socks-and-sandals-wearing weirdo, who doesn’t have ‘fun’ and who always leaves the party at 11pm (if they were ever at the party at all). Or, maybe your experience of Christians has involved a Bible-bashing, “you’re all going to hell” type situation. I have to admit, sometimes these are my impressions of Christians, even though I am one myself, and I’m not aware of anyone at my church who is either of these things.
So yes, I’m aware that Christians often get a bad rep. Especially as the ones who make it into the press are usually at the more extreme end of things (think Louis Theroux at the Westborough Baptist Church). But the truth is, the majority of Christians are just your everyday kinda people, doing their best to live our their faith in their normal, fairly average lives. I hope, for one, that I fall into this category. I think I probably do, as I bet quite a few people reading this didn’t even know I was a Christian until now. That is obviously not a good thing. I want people to know about my faith, without whacking them over the head with my beliefs. If I’m honest, I’d like people to know I’m a Christian just by the way I live my life, but that’s a work in progress.
But what actually happens at a Christian festival? I’ve grown up going to them, so it all seems pretty normal to me, but for some people I imagine that ‘normal’ is the last word you’d use to describe it. Essentially, the day focuses around two main ‘meetings’ or services, one in the morning and one in the evening. These last for a couple of hours and consist of worship (think live band, thousands of people singing, flashing lights, smoke machines etc), preaching (basically a TED Talk with a Christian message) and ministry (praying for people). All this is powerful, inspiring and emotional, so can feel a little draining, as well as refreshing. Hence the fairly chilled out rest of the day. There are a couple of seminars in the afternoon for people to go to, as well as plenty of stalls and coffee shops. After the evening service, the venues are all open, and there’s live music, a games room, a bar (serving actual alcohol) and plenty of places to go for a hot chocolate night cap.
I realise that for someone who is not religious (I kind of dislike that word but I’m using it anyway), this might sound fairly dire. Two church services in one day? No, thank you. Maybe you’d be surprised to hear that lots of people who go to Naturally Supernatural (that’s the name of the festival) aren’t actually Christians before they go. I think they go because they’re searching for something, whether that be an identity, a purpose, a hope or a comfort. All of these things can be found in God. Obviously it’s not all take and no give, but I don’t think many non-Christians realise that it’s not about following a list of rules and living a restricted life. It’s actually the complete opposite. It’s about freedom, a relationship, eternity and love. All sounds a bit wishy-washy? Maybe, but I for one was encouraged to be surrounded by so many others this week who believe in the same ‘wishy-washy’ things that I do.
I’m the first to admit that I’m pretty terrible about talking about my faith. Maybe I’ve just about managed to drop into a conversation that I go to church, or that I’m meeting up with ‘friends from church’ on a Wednesday evening. But I find it easier to write about it, although I’m sad that it’s taken this long of having this blog and writing on it regularly (?) to actually just go for it and say it outright. So there, I’m a Christian. Now that you know, I have absolutely no excuse not to talk about it with you. Just as a pre-warning, I don’t have all the answers. I haven’t studied theology and I haven’t read the Bible cover to cover (yet). So if you’re going to ask me questions, please expect me to go red, say “umm” and eventually say “I don’t know”. I’m not perfect, but I think that’s the whole point really.