Celebration time at Warwick for Big Day Out 2017

BDO image 554x415Organisers of the United Reformed Church’s Big Day Out have thanked the hundreds of URC visitors, and all contributors, for making the most of the event at Warwick Castle on Saturday (20 May) – and smiling their way through the sunshine and showers!

Visitors from across the United Reformed Church joined Pilots’ companies to take part in the festivities which, this year, were designed not only for children and young people but also for Church members of all ages. In a break from tradition, the Big Day Out included a festival on the Castle’s Pageant Field and many activities, talks, games and workshops took place in gazebos dotted around the impressive site.


Music on the main stage was led by Mersey synod’s Café Jam band, with a guest appearance from guitar-playing URC Youth Moderator, Dan Morrell. A highlight for many Big Day Out-ers was the band’s rendition of Celebration and the song proved to be a winner in bringing the crowd together, though running a close second in terms of musical popularity was a Big Day Out bespoke ‘version’ of the song Be Our Guest from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

A lunchtime worship session had people on their feet to praise and give thanks for such a special day. Inflatable globes, thrown from the stage, encouraged many to pray for many troubled places in the world where there is suffering, war and division.

The musicians were joined on stage by event compères, the Revd Tim Lowe and the Revd Jenny Mills, who wore jesters’ outfits to emphasise how many who are thought of as the ‘fools of this world’ actually speak truth in places of power, and how they can use humour to bring down the arrogant and selfish.

Many Pilots, on arriving at the Castle, rushed to see the permanent residents of the aptly named Peacock Garden before throwing themselves into the challenge of the URC’s sticker treasure hunt for which they gathered food-related stickers from special collection points across the site. The stickers were then attached to a card designed as a URC Feasts and Festivals ‘picnic rug’.

The day’s wide-ranging programme reflected the role which feasts, festivals and celebration play in sharing the Kingdom of God within the URC, and beyond, and preparing for ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’ – the United Reformed Church’s focus on lifelong Christian discipleship and mission.

Speakers on the main stage explored the theme of ‘The world’s got talent. What is there to celebrate in today’s world?’

The Revd John Proctor, General Secretary of the URC, asked: ‘What makes me think that the URC’s got talent? People make me think it, the Spirit makes me think it, Jesus makes me think it. I see that pretty well every working day of my life because I use my eyes; it’s when I see people give, and share, and offer the gifts that God has given them to be a gift to others.’

One such person who has shared her gifts with children and young people for many years is Soo Webster and, in recognition of her outstanding work, John Proctor presented her with the rare honour of a Pilots Distinguished Service Award.

Paul Northup, Creative Director of the Greenbelt festival, focused on the growth of festivals of all kinds in recent years, saying they offered what have been described as ‘temporary autonomous zones’. These are ‘where people can experience a freedom, imagination, power and sense of community not usually present in their day-to-day existence’ and offer a precious opportunity to step aside from the everyday to reflect, contemplate, hear different voices and be challenged to take action.

Science and technology have revolutionised communication methods today and many are concerned about its negative impact but Kirsty Mabbott, Church Related Community Worker in Newport, south Wales, explored the positive use of technology by the Church. In looking at reasons to celebrate, she also cited the joining together of communities to enact justice, and where and how the Church can become the hub of the community again: ‘Celebration is not just seeing people come to Christ, but seeing God’s creation honoured through care and stewardship so that the now and the not yet, the topsy-turvy, upside down Kingdom of God may flourish.’

The gazebos were often a hive of activity, both for talks and craft sessions. The Revd Neil Thorogood, principal of Westminster College, talked about who we might invite to the banquet of the Kingdom of God. He reflected on gospel stories of Jesus at meals and parables of feasts he shared. Neil also oversaw an art space in which people were invited to fill in the blank place settings on a giant paper tablecloth with details of those they would like to invite to the banquet.

Catching up on latest news and views was the motivation for many to take away free copies of Reform while children visited the adjacent stand to dress up for the “selfie photo booth”.

Further contributions came from Christian Aid, Messy Church, URC Youth, Racial Justice Advocates, General Assembly Moderator Alan Yates and Moderator-Elect Derek Estill, and the Council for World Mission. Shou Hui Chung, from the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, spoke about her work with the St Peter’s Ecumenical Chaplaincy, Manchester and the Taiwanese Fellowship in London, while Charles and Molly Chua, of the Presbyterian Church of Singapore now serve the Presbyterian Church of Wales in Swansea.

Molly Chua explained how their work had developed there: ‘We run free conversational English classes, ‘English Corner’, for outreach to international students from two local universities. Through contact with students, some come to our church, some come for Bible studies and a good number come to faith in Jesus. We continue to follow up on them after they return to their home countries by visiting them on a regular basis. Food is always available when we meet in church or at our home, and it is around our meals that we share our faith journey and talk about our Saviour. We generally have between 50 and 80 people dining with us at any one time.’

Simon Peters, Children’s and Youth Work Programme Officer, said: ’Having organised the widest gathering of people from across the denomination, possibly in our 45-year history, I think that members of the Pilots community can safely say that they’ve lived up to their aim of creating an event for the whole URC.’