I’m feeling a bit bad for not having previously given this month’s National Day of Prayer and Worship (NDOP) at Wembley a plug on this blog yet. It’s such a powerful opportunity for Christians of all backgrounds to get together and pray for our nation and worship God in a public way.
Last week the Evangelical Alliance’s website published the news that NDOP will be giving away free places for the event to the homeless, poor and marginalised. This is the reason behind the decision:
Jonathan Oloyede, who runs NDOP, said following a prayer meeting last week that the team were given a word from Luke 14:15-24. He said: “The Lord was calling out to all His people, especially those on the margins and outside the warm huddle of church life to come to worship with their family.
“‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled’.”
He told the Alliance: “GDOP would like to see everyone irrespective of their culture, class or creed united for the Kingdom. One of our friends has made this possible through their generous donation. We are therefore calling out to agencies working with the homeless and marginalised to bring them to Wembley.
This is great news and encouraging that the decision came from spending time seeking God’s heart. Although tickets to the event are a relatively modest £10 per person, it is an acknowledgment that its doors should be open to as many as possible. Income and ability to pay should not be a hinderance for those who wish to come and intercede, pray and worship at such an event.
Curiously on the same day that I found this article on NDOP, I also read Stuart James post at eChurch on his frustration at not being able to attend Greenbelt due to costs. Both of the pieces tackled the same subject from different angles: Stuart started by looking at Greenbelt’s mission page on their website. This is what he writes:
Here’s the part that really interests me:
Our history is firmly rooted within a Christian tradition which is world-affirming, politically and culturally engaged. Ours is a belief that embraces instead of excludes. And, as such, the festival is family-friendly celebration, inclusive and accepting of all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, background or belief.
Did you notice the “embraces instead of excludes” and “inclusive and accepting of all”? Now contrast this with a Tweet I noted earlier:
The irony is that I’ve never attended Greenbelt and the reason for this is that I’ve never been in a position to afford to do so, even though I live relatively nearby in Gloucestershire.
Way out of my league frankly. But if you’re in receipt of benefits, or a lone parent, and can prove it, you may purchase a concession ticket for the price of £25 per person per day, or £70 for a single parent family.
I’m no expert in benefits, but from my brief investigation these ‘concession’ tickets amount to roughly half the weekly income of those on benefits. Not forgetting costs for travel, food, etc needed for the day itself.
This doesn’t come across as exceptionally ‘embracing’ and ‘inclusive’ of the poor does it…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive, this is a commercial enterprise and so the argument will be thrown back that these prices are commensurate with other festivals. But is Greenbelt just another festival or does it have a distinct and special ethos?
As the season of Christian summer festivals draws to a close. These two articles have got me thinking about how Christianity in our country still favours the more well off. For many Christians attending a festival such as Greenbelt or Spring Harvest is a major highlight of the year and a chance to hear excellent speakers, enjoy worshipping God with many others with top quality music and be spiritually fed. I attend New Wine regularly and I would say that this is the case for me. But for a family of five like us, it gets pretty expensive even if you’re on a healthy income.
To be fair to the festivals they have to charge sufficient amounts to break even, otherwise they wouldn’t happen. They’re also not in it to make money. Greenbelt do give away 200 free places a year and Spring Harvest offer a limited number of heavily discounted tickets to those on low incomes as an acknowledgement that not everyone can afford full prices. I suspect they would offer more if it was financially viable. As it is there are still going to be plenty of people wishing they could go but knowing it’s out of their reach.
One festival I know of that has adopted a different approach is Creationfest, which takes place at the Royal Cornwall Showground every August. It’s completely free to attend. Not only does this remove all financial barriers to attending, but it also makes it easier to invite those who are from outside the church or who just want to taste what a Christian festival is like. I’ve been and it’s really well run. They do charge for camping which makes it less attractive if you’re coming from a distance, but it’s great if you’re local or holidaying in the area. It’s financially supported by a number of Christian organisations and individuals. Perhaps this is a model that could be adopted by some other festivals or other new ones started with the same intentions.
What this comes down to is how we as a church support those fellow Christians who are less well off. If we feel that attending such festivals is of value then isn’t it right that within our congregations we do what we can to get round the financial barriers that most of these festivals present? I know some churches do this and to me it’s a natural extension of all the other work churches do with the poor and disadvantaged. Attending festivals may not always be seen as a priority, but supporting poor Christians within our congregations, however we judge that to be done appropriately is just as important as supporting those in other countries and working with the poor outside the church wherever that may be.