A hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence at New Wine

The Church of England - - FEATURE / CROSSWORD - Paul Har­court Paul Har­court is on the Na­tion al Lead­er­ship Team of New Wine and Re­gional Di­rec­tor for Lon­don & East. He is vicar of All Saints Woodford. Visit new wine.org to watch/lis­ten to teach­ing from the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence

At the close of the New Wine Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence in Har­ro­gate ear­lier this month, John Coles in­vited us to ask God for a word to take back home with us. Just one word – be­cause one word from the Lord is worth more than any amount of hu­man words – but one that summed up what the Fa­ther had been say­ing to us and do­ing with us over a spe­cial three days to­gether. Each per­son will have been touched in dif­fer­ent ways, so each word would en­cap­su­late a per­sonal en­counter.

John shared that the word the Lord had given him was ‘bul­rushes’, not the most ob­vi­ous word to come to one’s mind, but one that took him im­me­di­ately to Ex­o­dus and the story of Moses. The sense was of God’s gra­cious pro­tec­tion, par­tic­u­larly per­haps for New Wine – that God is not done with us yet, and has pro­tected us be­cause he still has a part for us as a move­ment to play, along­side oth­ers, in the re­new- al of his Church in this na­tion.

My thoughts were many and, in the mo­ment, noth­ing came that I knew was so ob­vi­ously from God. How­ever, the word that first sur­faced, and which has been com­ing back more and more pow­er­fully since, was ‘hum­bling’.

It was hum­bling to be so clearly in the pres­ence of God as a fam­ily of lead­ers. Arch­bishop Justin Welby called us to a gen­eros­ity of spirit, and to lives that are trans­par­ent, holy and marked by a will­ing­ness to suf­fer.

That could not be bet­ter ex­em­pli­fied than by Brother Ed­ward, pas­tor of the largest church in Da­m­as­cus and speak­ing on be­half of the pas­tors of Syria. It was hum­bling to see their faith and to hear their heart. It was hum­bling also to hear that the 1,700 lead­ers present in Har­ro­gate had, in re­sponse, given £107,000 to sup­port our brothers and sis­ters in that cru­ci­fied land.

Mark Bat­ter­son, au­thor of The Cir­cle Maker, en­larged our vision as he told the story of Na­tional Com­mu­nity Church in Wash­ing­ton DC, grow­ing from noth­ing to bring vi­brant life, over­flow­ing love and great cre­ativ­ity to the heart of Amer­ica’s cap­i­tal. Nicky Gum­bel, Kate Cole­man and Char­lotte Gam­bill were the other guest speak­ers, each of whom brought some­thing that left you mar­vel­ling at God rather than im­pressed with a talk.

‘Hum­bling’ is not merely the re­sult of some­thing seen or heard, it can also be an ex­pe­ri­ence di­rectly from the Lord.

For me, one of the things that marked the con­fer­ence was emo­tional hon­esty and gen­uine vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Young wor­ship lead­ers sang with great faith about a God who brings ‘beauty from ashes’, not as an ab­stract con­cept but from a place of great per­sonal pain. Trust in God has rarely, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, been so beau­ti­fully ex­pressed.

Ev­ery time, the Lord drew us into a place of en­counter with his grace that left none of us un­touched. Times of min­istry were times of hon­esty, where you knew that real life and the re­al­ity of per­sonal faith were be­ing ad­dressed, with­out hid­ing or pre­tence. Sea­soned lead­ers made them­selves vul­ner­a­ble and poured into younger peo­ple; in turn, the younger lead­ers blessed and hon­oured those who had shown them the way.

There was no sense of com­pe­ti­tion, only of stand­ing to­gether as a fam­ily. The Spirit came to us, bro­ken ves­sels, in power and love. All that was pos­si­ble only be­cause the Lord him­self brought us to the end of our­selves.

For many of those at the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence it will be a land­mark mo­ment in their jour­ney. What is most im­por­tant though is not what hap­pened, but how we go on. In my re­flec­tions I was struck by a third strand in scrip­ture con­cern­ing ‘hum­bling’ – that it is not just a re­sponse to a mo­ment, or some­thing di­rectly from the Lord him­self, but can also be an ac­tion with which we vol­un­tar­ily en­gage.

The Psalms men­tion ‘ the hum­ble’ four times, promis­ing that the Lord ‘saves’, ‘guides’, ‘sus­tains’ and ‘ crowns’ them. De­spite that, we of­ten con­tinue to fall into the temp­ta­tions to build our own king­doms, trust in our own re­sources, or make our own names great. In the light of God’s mercy in Je­sus, the New Tes­ta­ment urges us there­fore to ‘hum­ble our­selves’ (James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6). This is a pos­ture that we are in­vited to adopt, where our eyes are on him alone. Watch­ing the news at present, the po­lit­i­cal ten­dency in these trou­bled times is look for sim­pler an­swers and stronger lead­ers, end­lessly di­vid­ing the world into win­ners and losers. We trust in our God. We know he has cho­sen the weak and the fool­ish to make his power known.

New Wine as a move­ment has been hum­bled. We will go on stronger and bet­ter as a re­sult.

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