John and Anne Coles led New Wine for many years. Anne spoke with Abi Roff about her experience of Christian festivals, and why she believes they benefit the Church

Abi Roff (AR): Can you tell me a bit about your background, as it relates to summer festivals?

Anne Coles (AC): I’ve been part of annual Christian festivals most of my life. New Wine is the one that we’ve been to every year since 1989, as a family. My husband, John and I were leading New Wine at one point. We took over from the founders, David and Mary Pytches.

AR: Can you tell me more about the history of New Wine? 

AC: David and Mary Pytches were experiencing something of a revival in their church. Others who were trying to lead small churches were getting in touch and asking: “Can we come and see what’s happening?”

They were very open and generous, and welcomed all of us. There was a point when David said: “Why don’t we all get together in the summer? Then we can worship the Lord and do some teaching about the Holy Spirit together.”

We went along, although we’d never camped before, as we wanted to know how to welcome the Lord into our church and see his power at work. 

At the end of that first ten days in 1989, David said, sort of offhandedly: “It has been so good to be together, maybe we should do this next year.” The whole place erupted and started clapping – there were about 2,000–3,000 of us at that time.

As church leaders, we saw the dramatic effect it had on our church, particularly the teenagers

For the first four or five years, it was a bit like that. He didn’t start it thinking: “I’m going to start a summer festival that will go on for the next 35 years”, as it has.


AR: Can you tell me about any other festivals you’ve been to?

AC: We’ve also been to Big Church Day Out [now Big Church Festival] and Wildfires. My husband has been to Spring Harvest. And both of us were part of summer Christian camps as teenagers before we even met each other. We’ve a lot of experience of being part of and leading summer festivals.

Maybe I’ll retire from it eventually, but we still go to them. I’m afraid we don’t stay in a tent, but that’s the downside. I think the camping experience is all part of it. I feel sorry that we aren’t in a tent, but also I’m very glad that I will be sleeping two feet off the ground.

All our family are in tents; we used to have our little caravan and be surrounded by dozens of tents of teenagers and families. It’s a great leveller being in a tent; you get to know people much better and find out who they really are. 


AR: Do you have any particularly memorable experiences from festivals? 

AC: There are quite a lot! Every summer we would go with our four children. We needed to go because we were leading it, but there were times when I thought: “Oh, do I want to spend a week or two weeks in the mud and the rain again?” But the joy of our children, as we drove over the top of the hill and they saw the tents in front of them, was so much that they still talk about it. That’s probably why they’re going to take their children this summer. 

It’s memorable the effect that it’s had on our family. Some of our children received a call to ministry during meetings. One of them met their spouse. It’s been formative in their spiritual and social lives. They are now bringing their families because they recognise the value of it. I can’t tell you as a grandmother, how much joy that gives me. The grumbling about the rain in a tent really pales into insignificance. I’m so grateful to the Lord. But also, as church leaders, we saw the dramatic effect it had on our church, particularly the teenagers.

We had dozens of teenagers who would come, many of them now in ministry in this country and abroad. The families who came from our church had a regular annual boost of Holy Spirit input, which gave new life to the church and really helped as the church grew.


Anne Coles

AR: Do you have any embarrassing stories from festivals that you’ve been to?

AC: I do remember one time, although it’s not particularly embarrassing. We went off site to do some shopping or meet someone from the train station. It was raining and when we arrived back, we discovered that our caravan was alone, in the middle of a complete lake!

Obviously everybody with tents around us had moved, but our caravan was still there! We had to roll our trousers up and try to pull up the awning and move the whole thing. Everybody pitched in and got incredibly wet. We managed to get the caravan out though.


Anne and John Coles

AR: What do you think some of the challenges of festivals are? 

AC: I think that a lot of people have financial restrictions, so they toss up between going on a typical beach holiday or to a summer festival, which can be quite hard work and can cost a lot if you’ve got a family. 

Maybe those of us who’ve done it for a long time and have realised the benefit to both our church and our family should be sharing our story a bit more. You have to take a long-term view.

It’s quite a hard decision to give up a beach holiday to go to a summer festival. I think just to go to a festival because it’s going to be good for you isn’t quite enough. But if you know your life’s going to be transformed, that’s a bit different. People’s lives are transformed by going to festivals; we don’t always understand the benefit of gathering in large numbers.

I think we need to pray for a new move of God in the Church, because then people will want to start learning, growing and getting into the story and experience more. 


AR: What are some of the benefits of attending festivals?

AC: Many of our friends now have the joy of seeing their children having grown up in the faith now bringing their grandchildren to worship the Lord at camp. Some of those who’ve grown up going off to summer camp are reaping

the benefits now. Many churches received new life from the Lord because they came together as a church group. At New Wine, we make sure that everybody camps together in a church group.

The power of the Lord in growing the Church has probably been the most amazing thing

I saw the Lord do marvellous things and, I mean, obvious miracles. But I think the power of the Lord in growing the Church has probably been the most amazing thing.

There was a woman who was in a wheelchair and stayed in a tent with her family. How she did that, I do not know. On the last day of the camp, she was healed. She was out of her wheelchair and walking. It was a wonderful thing! A blind woman came with friends, who took her to a healing seminar and she received her sight back! I interviewed her for one of our women’s days – her story was so moving and her face was shining. Just by hearing her story of the Lord’s power at work in her life, 20 women in the auditorium immediately gave their lives to the Lord. She was not only immediately healed from blindness, but over time and through the care and prayers of her Christian family, she broke free from poverty, and a whole lot of relational challenges; her life was put back together by the Lord. 


There’s something about the dynamic of meeting together in a large group that I think increases the faith of the people of God and ushers in his power. Looking back, I’d put up with the mud and the rain for seeing what God is doing and knowing that there is hope for the world in Jesus. 

If you commit a week to a Christian festival you can learn an incredible amount. You could sign up to a leadership or relationship stream and get the sort of help, teaching, support and prayer that might take a whole year in church. I’d thoroughly recommend going!

Summer Christian festivals

Here is a list of festivals taking place in the UK this summer. Visit their websites for more details.


Cliff Festival

Peak District

24–27 May

Big Church Festival

West Sussex

25–26 May

Summer Madness


28 June–2 July

The Send


7 July

Cedarwood Festival

North Yorkshire

12–14 July

Keswick Convention


13–19 July 

20–26 July

27 July–2 August



22–25 July

HTB Focus


25–28 July

New Wine

Shepton Mallet

25–30 July

New Day


29 July–2 August

Creation Fest


1–4 August


Shepton Mallet

2–6 August

Limitless Festival


3–7 August

New Horizon

Northern Ireland

3–9 August



10–17 August


Shepton Mallet

22–26 August



23–26 August

David’s Tent


23–26 August


West Sussex

23–26 August