Ah… The Gathering…
For years now, it’s been one of my annual highlights and I’m pleased to say that my second year with the RBC men was no exception. This year the festival was bigger than ever with nearly 2,500 men in attendance, the site was busier and better organised. The big top was full…. very full and very hot. The afternoon activities were bigger and better than ever. Programme wise the festival felt different too, more focused, purposeful and intentional. You’ll remember Carl Beech who visited us in January this year? Carl was clear from the outset- ‘I’m going to be preaching the gospel of my saviour and men are going to commit themselves to follow him- this is not an easy path to follow’.
Over the two days we saw hundreds of men respond, I can’t tell you how much it moves me to see tough hard tattooed, shaven headed men mixed in with middle aged (middle class) mixed in with young lads – the whole spectrum really, weeping as they encounter Jesus in a real and powerful way. Where else would this happen?
Testimonies were given, not wild amazing out of this world, don’t really believe it testimonies. Real earthy, sad, gritty testimonies about brokenness, addiction, crime, poverty, ill heath, bereavement and death. One man told how having been infected with HIV through a blood transfusion has led to all sorts of complications now including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This man’s faith has not resulted in a miracle cure or recovery, he is still dying slowly, painfully and debilitatingly. But his faith gives him hope and purpose. Another man told us how he had life sorted, the prestigious job, model family, luxurious house, amazing car. But he was also riddled with the horrific back dog of depression that tried to rob him of everything he was. He stood in front of over 2000 men to tell us, its ok not to be ok, he still has depression, but he has faith and hope.
Our group was pretty special, a microcosm of the diversity that makes RBC so special. About twenty of us camping together, eating, drinking, laughing and most importantly praying together. Those spontaneous moments of prayer and devotion, that if we had tried to plan just wouldn’t have worked. I feel closer to these guys after this special experience.
At the risk of being controversial I am well aware of a certain profile of man at RBC who feels on the fringe of things, hanging on by their fingertips, faith wavering, feeling disconnected where Sunday attendance and growth group commitment is sporadic. In the past they used to be so involved in RBC life, exercised and motivated and full of life, and now the pilot light is on …. but only just and how long can it last like this? They feel overlooked and uncared for. Ideas and initiatives are viewed with scepticism – seen it and done it all before. They are shadows of who they used to be.
To these men, and partners, friends, family of etc I simply want to say: to spend a weekend with a group from church – who may not be your usual group, to pray, laugh, eat and hang out with; to be part of the amazing Gathering worship experience and to hear the gospel preached in a gritty, real direct, straight way, may just reignite your flame, re-vigour your passion, rediscover your drive, re- commission your life. Book your ticket and join us next year – there’s nothing else quite like it.
Oh, and why are we dressed in a vaguely medieval style…and how did Neil Bradshaw get to the semi-finals of the best costume competition? Ask the guys that came.
See you Sunday