Christian festivals are not just about big numbers. These events are spiritual refilling stations where we lose ourselves in worship and teaching. Here, we take a peek behind the scenes of Creation Fest and David’s Tent
Sarah Yardley is the Mission Lead at Creation Fest, a free four day outreach-focused festival in Cornwall that expresses love for Jesus through a vibrant programme of arts, music and energetic activities - including a skate park! She says:
I grew up in Orange County, California and can’t remember a time when I didn’t love Jesus, committing my life to Christ aged nine. I started volunteering at Creation Fest in 2009 in my 20s and loved it so much that I just kept on coming.
It was a huge shock when festival founder, Phil Pechonis, tragically died in 2014. We all thought Creation Fest would stop, but God had been speaking to me through Isaiah 49, which talks about God’s calling on our lives, how he’s made his word in our mouth like a sword and called us to bring light to the nations. I wrote in my Bible: “God, are you calling me to Cornwall?” When someone prayed that same scripture passage over me, I knew God wanted me to take on the leadership though I felt scarily unprepared. I moved to the UK and have been here ever since.
For everybody, everywhere
At Creation Fest our vision is to be completely accessible. We want people to encounter Jesus through everything we do, so they say: “Whatever this is, it’s so beautiful that I want some of it.” My dear non-Christian friends impact my prayers and plans for Creation Fest. I’m always asking: “Is the language I’m using accessible?” and “How can we really engage people?” We put on a great range of events with all sorts of bands, sporting activities and creative workshops, fireworks, bonfires and silent discos. It’s brilliant fun, but also somewhere people can feel touched by our Creator God.
Challenges and unexpected joy
For my first three years in the UK, I struggled with loneliness and questioned: “Is there value and purpose to what I’m doing?” I had to press in deeply to knowing Jesus, but that cultivated resilience in me. COVID was a huge challenge. We created an on-air television series version of Creation Fest and my event lead produced a fantastically creative piece of work that’s been a beautiful evangelistic tool. Our offices were shut from September 2020 to January 2021. I also had a sabbatical. During that time, I was only ‘daughter of God’ and had no other role or title, which was tremendously beautiful.
Going into 2021 was a rollercoaster of “Can we? Should we?”, but because we’re smaller and fairly nimble, we managed to deliver a high-quality, safe, joyful event. We cut budgets, slashed options and put the stage outside for social distancing and airflow, but what stood out was the gentle sense of God’s presence. Countless church leaders came up to me and said: “Thank you for doing this. It’s encouraged our souls.”
I get excited by hearing stories of people finding faith like the 50-year-old dad, waiting to collect his teenage daughter, who heard the gospel preached and gave his life to Christ, only to meet his daughter in the prayer and response area. Ten years later, they’re both still walking with Christ. Creation Fest has changed me, too, from a woman whose head was convinced of the power of the gospel to a woman whose heart is fully in love with Christ.
Tiffany Buhler is the managing director of David’s Tent. She says: I’m passionate about worship, which is why I’m so thrilled to be involved with this 72-hour non-stop immersive experience of worship that ushers us into the Father’s throne room.
Worship was what brought me to Christ. I’d grown up in the US in a strict religious cult which messed me up, so I went off the rails and got into drugs. What changed my life was when my parents left the cult and joined a lively church. The worship I experienced there just blew my mind. I gave my life to Jesus and have never looked back.
Lost in God
I was involved with David’s Tent from its beginning in 2012. I’d worked with Burn 24/7, a powerful immersive worship experience in the US, and was asked to help set up David’s Tent to run along similar lines in the UK. We thought it would be just for one year, but the Lord moved so powerfully, people said to me: “You run with it”, so I ended up leading it.
We’re here for one thing, which is to minister to the Lord, like Mary, to pour out our finest oil at his feet and say: “I will reset with you, God. I will make that space where all of my life gets laid down on the altar again.” It’s interesting because we see a lot of healings from depression through the worship. After one lady with longstanding depression attended the festival, her doctor said: “Something happened to you at David’s Tent. You don’t need medication anymore.”
The difficulties and the joys
The biggest challenge for us is finance, but over and over we’ve seen the Lord provide. We don’t have big donors or do major partnerships as we believe the place of the tent isn’t a marketplace but a sanctuary.
COVID was definitely hard, because David’s Tent is an experience you can’t really replicate. Online didn’t work for us, so we had to shut down and make our staff redundant, which was really painful. In 2021, we restarted and planned our whole festival in just five months. On the Saturday night, there was this extraordinary time of lamenting where you could feel the humanity of Jesus. It was like he was saying: “I’m right here in the dirt with you, I know what you’ve been through. It’s been a long journey and I’m here to wash your feet.”
The fire of worship in David’s Tent has greatly changed me too. I used to be a reluctant and timid leader, but I’ve been really challenged to step out of my fear spaces. I’ve learned so much about the importance of leading well and loving well.
PLAN YOUR TRIP THIS SUMMER
These Christian festivals happen all over the UK during the warmer months and there’s one to refresh and inspire you whatever your faith style:
Awaken: A brand-new festival seeking intimacy with God
Big Church Day Out: A good introduction to festival atmosphere with great music
Creation Fest: Creatively inspired events and high-octane activities celebrate God’s goodness
David’s Tent: Immersive 72-hours of praise and adoration to worship Jesus
EdgeFest: Gospel-centred teaching, inspiring worship and all-age fun at this family-friendly camping festival
Focus: Teaching, worship and lots of fun activities hosted by Holy Trinity Brompton
Greenbelt: Popular festival with strong focus on arts, faith and justice
New Wine – United: Impactful teaching, Holy Spirit worship and transformational encounters with God
Sixty One: A brand new festival for students and young adults
Spring Harvest: Joining together every spring to celebrate God’s goodness
Youth 2000 – Rejoice: Youth retreat for those aged 18-35 with additional content for families with children
Spree South West: Camping and activity weekend for young people aged between 8 and 17
Cedarwood Festival: All church gathering of all generations and expressions of the Church to worship Jesus in unity
Keswick Convention: An event attracting Christians from all over the world and includes seminars, Bible readings and evening celebrations
Dreaming The Impossible (DTI by Vineyard): A youth movement for young people aged 12-18 from churches and youth organisations everywhere
Newday: Discipling young people to follow Christ and live fully for him
Limitless: A summer gathering for teenagers and young adults with a packed programme of activities, sports, events, seminars, workshops, and after hours venues
Satellites: A brand-new 5-day gathering by the team at Youthscape designed to inspire teenagers to live with God at the centre of their lives