Five things you THINK you know about Christian festivals
They’re not only for teenagers, hardy trekkers and the super-spiritual, says Catherine Francis
1 ‘I’ll have to rough it in a tent’
If camping doesn’t appeal, most festivals now have various accommodation options. For instance, at New Wine, you can arrange to stay at a local hotel, B&B, self-catering cottage or youth hostel, and come to the festival as a day visitor. Other festivals, such as Spring Harvest, are based at holiday camps with chalets and all the mod cons.
If you fancy a camping experience without the stress, there are companies that will have a caravan or deluxe tent pitched and ready for your arrival. Creature comforts such as flushing toilets, hot water and showers vary, so check with the festival. There are usually plenty of catering facilities, from burger vans to organic vegetarian kitchens.
“I don’t bother taking food and a camping stove any more,” says Greenbelter Kate, 39, from London. “There’s so much food available on site at reasonable prices, I found I ended up opting for that and wasting the food I’d taken.”
2 ‘It’ll cost a fortune’
Most festivals offer group discounts and reduced ticket prices for families and those on benefits, with camping facilities included, and you get big savings by booking early. Some offer free tickets for church leaders or people taking youth groups. If disabled visitors require a helper, they usually go free.
Some events, such as the Keswick Convention and Creation Fest, are free and rely on donations to fund the event (although you’ll have to pay for your accommodation). Or you could consider volunteering. Many festivals offer a free ticket and/or meal vouchers in exchange for a few hours a day helping to steward car parks, sell programmes, work in the box office or run activities.
“When I was a penniless student, I helped with the kids’ activities at New Wine,” says Debbie, 26, from Hampshire. “It was tiring but I enjoyed getting involved, and there was plenty of time off to enjoy the festival.”
3 ‘It’ll be a solid week of Bible study’
“Much as I love the Bible, a week studying it isn’t what I call a holiday!” admits Matt, 28, from Suffolk. “Fortunately, I’ve discovered there’s much more to enjoy at Christian festivals.”
There are still some good old-fashioned Bible weeks around, such as the Keswick Convention, with teaching broken up by inspiring worship and time off to enjoy the Lake District. But other events offer a different flavour. For a focus on Christian contemporary music, check out Creation Fest. For music and arts, theological debate and justice campaigns, Greenbelt is your place. For an emphasis on worship, ministry and training, consider New Wine. Have a look at their websites for a taste of what you’ll find at each event.
4 ‘Festivals are for teenagers, not adults or families’
Over recent decades, Christian festivals have grown from youth jamborees into family-friendly holidays with something for everyone. Some target a particular age group (for instance, Soul Survivor’s Momentum week is aimed at students and 20s-30s). But most festivals run programmes for all different age groups, plus crèches and ‘messy play’ areas for young children (parents may be required to stay with children for some activities).
As for grown-ups, there’s plenty to keep you busy in terms of music, seminars, debates and chilling out. “Some festivals have adult-only areas,” says Mike, 43, from Surrey. “I find Greenbelt’s organic beer tent a great place to escape from the youngsters for a while.”
Some festivals even allow you to take the family dog to the campsite (although usually only working dogs are allowed on the festival site itself).
5 ‘I can’t go on my own’
Most festival-goers tend to go with friends, family or church groups, but many go on their own. Workshops and small-group events are ideal for meeting new friends. Volunteering is also great, giving you a chance to get to know fellow volunteers as you work together.
“I help run children’s activities or eco-events at Greenbelt every year,” says Joanne, 45, from Lancashire. “I camp on my own, but you soon bond with the people you’re working with and I’ve made some great friends. These days, I can’t walk onto the festival site without bumping into someone I know.”
A regular volunteer at Soul Survivor, Hannah, 25, from London, adds: “I’m a nurse and I volunteer as part of the medical team. After years of going to the festival with my youth group, it’s great to give something back and help make it happen. I've met career mentors and made friends for life on volunteer teams.”
“I wish someone had told me…”
“…about the traffic queues to get on site. These days, I let the train take the strain.” Joan, 64, Northumberland
“…to book my shower as soon as I arrived on site. By the time I turned up to book my slot, they were all taken.” Kate, 39, London
“…to travel light. When the campsite got waterlogged last year, we had to carry everything from the car park – several back-breaking treks.” Madeleine, 35, Essex
“…to take something unusual to identify my tent. A ribbon or flag makes it easier to find your tent amongst hundreds of others, especially at night.” Joanne, 45, Lancashire
“…not to skimp on buying a programme. I heard about so many good events after they’d happened – plus the site map makes finding your way around much easier.” Matt, 28, Suffolk
“…not to get carried away with the festival spirit and buy loads of hippy-style clothes I wouldn’t be seen dead in back home.” Debbie, 26, Hampshire
“…if you’re keen on a particular speaker, everyone else will be too. I really wanted to hear Rob Bell at Greenbelt last year, but the queue was so long I didn’t get in.” Mike, 43, Surrey
“…to wear flip-flops and shorts if it’s wet. Legs and feet are easier to dry in a tent than clothes and shoes.” Janet, 41, Somerset
Your festival survival kit
Easy-to-overlook items to make your festival experience more pleasant …
Wet wipes, sunscreen, earplugs, cash (no cashpoints on site), small bottles of water (to avoid dehydration in the sun), antibacterial hand-spray, wellies, lots of layers (even if it’s hot in the day, it can get cold in the evenings), bumbag (thefts are rare but it’s best to keep your valuables on you), small torch for your bag (to find your tent at night), spare torch batteries, loo rolls (carry one at all times!), light waterproof jacket, extra socks, any medications you’re taking, something waterproof to sit on, first aid kit.
Other Christian festivals this summer: