What happens when a new movement of the Spirit enters middle age?
I was left wondering this recently as we celebrated ten years of attending New Wine, the summer camp that has grown out of the evangelical charismatic wing of the C of E, with its origins in St. Andrew's Chorleywood, UK. From small beginnings in the late 80s, some Christian friends in a field, the movement has grown to number 24,000 attendees, all eager to pump some kingdom renewal and encouragement into their veins before returning to their churches and communities to make a difference.
Every stream of Christianity has its weak points and blind spots, and the charismatic movement is no exception. New Wine is on its third generation of leaders, people now more our less our age. What has changed, what has developed and what has felt like a growing up? Three things stood out this summer for me.
I'll be honest: New Wine hasn't always been the most affirming place for an aspiring woman bible teacher/preacher/leader. A plethora of male role models seems to have (at last) given way to something more diverse. For the first time this year I was obliged to choose between women speakers of an evening, across three different venues. I don't recall this happening before. From conversations about the circular problem of why there aren't many women bible teachers/speakers (women don't want to put themselves forward, therefore there aren't many women speaking; nothing can be done about this) we seem to have arrived at the happy position of having a really good number. Even my mornings were spent happily listening to a woman bring the bible to life, alongside a man: different approaches, different blessing. It meant that through the 6 days of morning and evening teaching, I listened to a total of 6 women and 7 men. To some this won't be an issue, but to me, just right now, it is still important. The women were always out there, of course; these things are often problems of imagination, as much as problems of reality. I was left thinking (happily) 'well that wasn't so difficult...'
2. Charismatic/contemplative worship.
The 'Acoustic' Venue (quite a departure from the big Arena norm) is my natural millieu. Here are no massive drum kits, electric guitars, people jumping up and down or famous Christian bands selling their CDs. Instead there are musicians whom no one has heard of, just doing their thing and getting out of the way when necessary. We experimented in worship with 'psalm surfing', i.e. singing the refrain of a psalm over and over, interspersed with short songs and tongues singing, but always coming back to the psalm, the effect of which was not unlike how I imagine the chanting at Taize, the Roman Catholic monastery in France. We sang lament, never far form the Psalmist's repertoire, because lament is the natural response of looking at injustice and crying out to God as to why he appears to be absent. As Richard Foster has pointed out in Streams of Living Water, joyously, the charismatic and the contemplative are not as far apart as one might imagine, and sometimes worship brings us eventually to silence (see an earlier post on 'either/or' spirituality
3. Theologies of suffering alongside healing.
A third and major theological stumbling block for me within the charismatic movement (until recently) has been the insistence on miraculous physical healing, when for the most part my experience has been that good people, people you pray for, people who fill our churches, regularly get ill and die. I understand that when you are trying to redress the balance (the equally erroneous view that God is always silent on healing) you have to put the other side of the story forcefully, especially in the light of the example of Jesus. But in the past I have struggled with stories of miraculous healings of people who've slipped over in the shower on the campsite, etc. What about those who get cancer and die, like the person whose miraculous recovery from something terminal we all cried out for one year in the main meeting, fervently, ardently; all 6000 of us. I think she was married to one of the leaders. She died in the autumn.
But the stories had more authenticity this year, resulting in me coming home (weirdly) with a stronger conviction than ever, that God does bring healing, in whatever way he wills, and wanting to take that into church and community. The stories were much more, yes, someone was prayed for; they appeared to get better but then the illness returned and they died. But the years had shown that the faithfulness of God had not failed - he had worked out his purposes in succeeding generations and prayer always made a difference. In other words, reality.
In these three ways - diversity, contemplation and balancing healing/suffering, I wonder if, alongside New Wine, now in its 26th year, I might be growing up, maturing, like good wine is supposed to....?