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Festival Sanctus

sam-bThis summer, a week after I left the Savio House retreat team, I headed down south and arrived at the Sion Community‘s base in Brentwood, Essex to pitch my tent in their garden and join a hundred or so others for ―Festival Sanctus‖; a week of worship, teaching, food, prayer, small group discussions and of course some silly games and entertainment. The campers were mainly young people who have met the Sion youth ministry team during the year at one of their school missions throughout the Country, but there were a few, myself included, who have met Sion through other means and have become regulars at Festival Sanctus (or Sion summer camp as it was previously known).

One of the great things about the way Sion works is that they encourage young people to take an active role in Festival Sanctus. Many of the people working on the Festival Sanctus team are people who, like me, have been participants before and have been offered the chance to take on a responsibility this time. It makes the distinction between team and participants a lot less obvious and makes the atmosphere on site really friendly and relaxed, with the team getting involved with everything just as much as everyone else.

I arrived a day early this year as I was due to be one of the two MCs – a bizarre role that I also took on last year. Bizarre because you have to be the ―face of Festival Sanctus‖ whilst, in my case, not being a member of the Sion youth team. So I had to tell everyone what was going on when I was aware that loads of people in the marquee knew a lot more than I did. Being MC was also a great deal of fun though. Apart from doing all the announcing, it was mine and Emily‘s (my co-MC‘s) job to provide a little comic relief at the start of each day. At the beginning of the week this included portraying the rules of the camp through a musical style of their choice. (I was horrified when I heard the word ‘slipknot’ being shouted out when it was my turn!)

One of the great things about the way Sion works is that they encourage young people to take an active role in Festival Sanctus. Many of the people working on the Festival Sanctus team are people who, like me, have been participants before and have been offered the chance to take on a responsibility this time. It makes the distinction between team and participants a lot less obvious and makes the atmosphere on site really friendly and relaxed, with the team getting involved with everything just as much as everyone else.

This year, as well as asking me to MC, they presented me with the job of doing one of the talks at the beginning of the day. In previous years, the speakers have always seemed much older and wiser than me – some of them being regular speakers at national conferences. So I did feel a little overwhelmed and under qualified to say the least. But it was a challenge and an experience that I wasn‘t going to miss out on.

The theme of the week was ―Shine‖ and after four days of input based around pieces of scripture about light, it was my turn to send them out on  the last day with my talk based on Matthew 5:14-16, ―You are the light of the world…‖ Writing the talk was a humbling experience because I realised how much I myself needed to hear the message that I put across;  being the light of the world is a big task that Jesus challenges us with. Before the talk, the day‘s program always started with ‘praise breakfast’, possibly one of the best ideas behind Festival Sanctus. At 9am we crawled into the marquee and queued up for toast and cereal. Soon after, some comedy clips from ‘youtube’ arrived on the big screen while everyone sat on the carpeted floor munching on their toast. And then, after we‘d all woken up a bit and half way through our breakfast, the band got behind their instruments and began to lead us in songs of praise and worship while we were free to carry on eating, sing along, sit on the floor listening or jump up and down if we so wished. It‘s a casual, free and unceremonious approach to prayer that really appeals to me. It dispels some of the ideas that charismatic styles of worship are scary or weird. We were just Christians gathered in a marquee, eating breakfast and praising God, why not?

The rest of the day included some personal prayer time, where we were given an array of different forms of prayer to try, small groups, mass in the marquee with some new lively music and plenty of entertainment in the evenings, starring Steve the gospel juggler (you heard right) a ceilidh band and ultimately the raw talent of Festival Sanctus itself at the open mic night.

In some ways Festival Sanctus (and I can only assume therefore also the rest of Sion youth ministry) is quite different from the Salesian styles of youth work that I‘ve experienced. Sion‘s spirituality is deeply rooted in its identity in the Charismatic renewal, and I‘ve yet to come across an overlap of Salesian and Charismatic traditions. In that sense, I suppose the Christian tradition that they are inviting young people to share in is slightly different. Also it seems that Sion invite young people (sometimes quite directly) into a real, adult relationship with Jesus. Sometimes this is just by being explicit about their own faith; something which I think comes more naturally in a charismatic setting.

On the other hand, I think there are some things that they could learn from the Salesian way of working. Salesians should be truly proud of the Salesian welcome. In my opinion ‘welcome’ is one of the most important parts of youth work. So much hangs on that first encounter and the Salesians seem to do what is necessary to make people feel comfortable and at home. At least, that‘s my experience on the giving and receiving ends of Salesian youth work. At the end of Festival Sanctus many young people went home having had a lot of fun, having met God in a new way and found themselves part of a network of Christians who are alive in their faith. I‘m sure many of them will be back in 2010.

Last modified on Friday, 30 May 2014 15:05

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