Today’s main task – to get ready for our annual visit to New Wine, a week at the Royal Bath and West Showground in Shepton Mallet along with several thousand other participants seeking to grow in the Christian faith.
This represents quite a big investment in time, energy and money. We will be travelling down the M6/M5 on holiday Saturday (“Am I mad?”) while our advancing age and declining faculties necessitate hiring a caravan rather than borrowing a tent. Not a cheap option. And I don’t always enjoy the music for worship.
But it is worth it.
Often I have conversations with people about their spiritual journey – it’s my job. And one feature that comes up time after time is how a week away on a Christian camp or convention has been a time of significant spiritual advance.
Here at Christ Church many members, not just young people, speak of how they were hugely helped by Windermere 2. This was a tented camp over ten days under the auspices of Pathfinders, sadly no longer operating. But it could be Soul Survivor, the Keswick convention or the Merseyside Christian Youth camps, a whole variety.
For me as a young Christian it was the Covenanter camps at Criccieth and then Burnmoor Tarn; for Jacqui and quite a few of you Capernwray Hall near Carnforth.
There does seem to be something special about taking a week out with a spiritual focus, a time of teaching and worship in a holiday environment. And it does seem to be how God works in our lives.
One person who realized this to great effect was Eric John Hewitson Nash (1898–1982). The chances are that you have never heard of this somewhat eccentric Anglican cleric – and that’s the point. He had a incredibly influential ministry without becoming a household name even in his own household. (Actually, he was single).
“Bash” had a clear and simple goal – to reach for Christ those who would become key players in our society. This he interpreted as the pupils of the top thirty public schools. His prayer was “Lord, we claim the leading public schools for your kingdom.” I guess he didn’t read the Guardian.
(For those who are reading this blog from outside the UK – I notice a significant number of you from Brazil – an English public school is a private school).
So Bash camps were born. These involved clear Bible teaching accompanied by personal friendship and pastoral care. He taught a simple ABC: “Admit your need of Christ; Believe that Christ died for you; Come to him.”
Over the years some 7000 boys attended these camps. And who did they include?
Well, it could be a Who’s Who of significant Christian leaders in my own life. Not just John Stott and David Watson but the Bishop who ordained me, David Sheppard, John Coles the present leader of New Wine, Nicky Gumbel of Alpha and finally Archbishop Justin. An amazing array.
Clearly we owe much to this single-minded ministry of the Rev Eric Nash, even if our parents failed to send us to Eton. And at its very heart was the importance of the week’s camp, taking time out for God in a holiday environment.
This would have been second nature to Jesus, his family and friends. Luke tells us that each year they made the 140 mile round trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem. “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover” (2:41)
This would have represented a substantial investment in time and energy. They walked the whole way with the final 15 miles from Jericho uphill, ascending about 3400 feet. No wonder there were special songs to be sung as Jerusalem came into view – the Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120–134.
A special occasion, of course. The whole country, it seemed, celebrated in a holiday environment God’s rescue from Egypt in such a way that it was they who were set free from slavery rather than the generation some 13 centuries earlier.
This was always something to look forward to. “When they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of God,’ my heart leaped for joy. And now we’re here, O Jerusalem, inside Jerusalem’s walls!” (Psalm 122:1).
All this is shown in the word ‘holiday.’ You don’t have to be a literary genius to work out that the word comes from the Old English words for holy and day; that is, the time offered self-consciously to God. Not all of us can take a week out for God but it does seem to be this is a significant way that God chooses to work in our lives.
However, if we are to take God seriously, it is for us to share his priority and make time for a true holyday. It can be a hard grind from Jericho to get there – but it is worth the effort.
Notices for two weeks attached.