New Wine 2011

So, what did I think of my first experience of New Wine? Well, it's hard to know where to begin. I suppose the first thing to talk about is the family stuff. Camping with ninety or so other St. Tees folks was really great. Sharing food and cooking with Nicola and Ruth was brilliant - they've become like the little sisters I never had - love them to bits. And having the time to sit and chat with lots of other folk, with whom I usually only have time for a brief "Hello, how are you?" as I charge around the church doing my duties, was brilliant too. Lots of new friendships made, and old ones significantly deepened. There was lots of fun and banter as well.

On the more (?) spiritual side, it was mostly good, though with one or two reservations.

Worshipping in a hall with 2,000 other Christians is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime - it's very uplifting, and you get a hint at what God and His people are capable of - and, possibly, a glimpse of heaven here on earth. I have to confess that I had mixed feelings about some aspects of the worship - I worry that some people may almost idolise certain worship leaders, and I'm concerned about how being so 'famous' affects said worship leaders. People kept asking me who had led worship at the venues I was attending. I never had any idea, which isn't to say that I didn't appreciate their efforts, and their willingness to serve God in that ministry, but I'm just not interested in the personalities.

I found the teaching at the main meetings to be a bit 'odd' - the biblical content often seemed minimal, and a lot of the time they seemed like massive ego-boosts for the preachers 'strutting their stuff'; the sermons vehicles for ideas, which, whilst good ideas, often seemed to have little obvious link to the scriptures. On the other hand, the early morning meditations (led by Joanna Pearson, Bishop Geoff's daughter) were models of good exegesis. And there were some excellent seminars.

Probably my favourite session of the whole week was "Help, I'm an introvert charismatic!" led by Mark Tanner. Many, many years ago, someone (who shall remain nameless) offered to pray with me to heal me of my introversion (I refused the offer - it didn't seem right somehow)... I spent years feeling utterly inadequate, and even, at times, wondering whether I was really a Christian at all, on the strength of that experience. It seemed, in the climate of that time and place, that the only valid model for a fulfilled Christian life was an extrovert one, and that to be otherwise was, at best, to be an inadequate Christian unable ever to experience the full measure of God's grace.

In more recent times, and in no small part thanks to Peter Guinness's ministry, I have learned to accept my status as an introvert in the church, and to begin to recognise that my spiritual gifts, whilst not of the 'shout it from the roof-tops' variety, are no less valid, and no less useful for building up the body of Christ than some of the 'louder' gifts. But to have someone preach on just that topic, and someone who has really thought through all the issues, was bliss. I feel both liberated and empowered - it's as though I have official permission to be me! It was such a relief to hear someone describe the world inside my head (and the way I interact with the external world) so accurately, and to confirm that I am 'normal'. I pray that my new-found freedom will enable me to use my gifts more fully to do my part in building Christ's church.

I attended several other things, including a few of the main meetings. I kept finding it all very affirming - even when it was meant to be challenging! One example - one main morning meeting was largely about putting aside our small, earthly, ambitions and offering ourselves and our lives wholeheartedly to God. My life, over the past few years, has undergone so many changes, many of them quite radical (like giving up paid employment), that it has, at times, felt like living inside a whirlwind. Somehow, the 'challenging' talk became one of affirmation - of confirmation that I am where God wants me and am doing the things he wants. I found myself recognising in the talk the steps I'd been going through myself in recent years. I know now that I am where I'm meant to be, so the doubts about the direction I'm headed that had been creeping in have been banished. Most of the week was like that, and now I feel very blessed, very loved, and very humbled that the great God who made the universe should trouble Himself with the minutiae of my life and wellbeing - I pray that I can repay His investment in me.

All in all, a great, if tiring (but refreshing!) way to spend a holiday. Would I go again? You betcha! How soon can I book?

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2021