’Wellies were definitely required’Thursday 2 August 2012
Church of Ireland Press Officer, Paul Harron, reports back from Summer Madness in its 25th anniversary year and relocation to Glenarm Estate on the Antrim Coast…
“The four–day event is billed as Ireland’s premier Christian festival with a purpose to encourage young people to reflect on issues that confront them in their social and spiritual development and engage with the world and contemporary culture. It attracts 3,000 and more people annually, a mix of campers and day–visitors who participate in a vibrant blend of seminars, workshops, outdoor pursuits, music, worship and drama.
John Kee, the festival’s energetic director – who established the event back in 1987 in Castle Archdale when he was the Church of Ireland Youth Officer – kindly invited me (and family) to get a flavour of the whole experience this year, which we did, pitching our tent beneath a big tree on the beautiful ancestral estate of the Earls of Antrim on Saturday and Sunday, 30 June –1 July. It was – if this isn’t a contradiction – both a revitalising and exhausting experience, certainly well worth it and great fun. This being an Irish ‘summer’, wellies were definitely required, and there wasn’t any trendy ‘glamping’ on our part…
While Summer Madness’s foundations lie within the Church of Ireland and its links are still strong, it enjoys a broad appeal. Young people come to the event with widely different experiences of church, faith and life and it aims to create an atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable, welcoming everyone from all denominations and none. That said, Bishop Harold Miller is the festival’s President and both he and the new Suffragen Bishop of the Arctic, Darren McCartney, were in commendable evidence behind a hot grill hosting a Down & Dromore ‘barbie’ on Saturday, while Bishop Alan Abernethy led the Holy Communion at the main Sunday morning worship in the ‘Big Top’ and chaired a panel discussion. The Church Army’s Jasper Rutherford was also commissioned in his new role as joint Church Army/Summer Madness Outreach and Development Officer, set to engage young people and young adults across Ireland in mission.
Bishop Miller reflected that the event this year – on the theme of ‘Fashion Gods’, in other words, how Christians might respond to demands of consumerism, body– and self–image and living authentic lives as disciples in today’s world from its extremes of vast wealth to great poverty – had been particularly strong. He said, ‘Summer Madness has always had the ability to make the Christian faith relevant to young people. It is incredible to see thousands of teenagers queuing up to get into the big top for worship, or engaging in seminars with the practical issues of today. Who says young people are no longer interested in the Christian faith. They are more interested than ever.’
I found the speaker at the Saturday and Sunday main–stage worship, Shane Claiborne from The Simple Way in inner–city Philadelphia (pictured right) challenging and engaging in equal measure, and both his style of delivery – in a Southern drawl – and the content of his talks hit the mark effectively for his audience; my own kids (rather younger than most) were (extraordinarily) also rapt from start to finish. Claiborne, like others, drew on the inspirational life of Mother Theresa as an example of radical service to Christ and his people. Other speakers were Danielle Strickland, Duffy Robins and Mike Pilavachi. Of the many artists performing, I got the chance to hear the haunting sounds of the multi–talented Katherine Phillippa, who also happened to be featured in that day’s Irish Times as one of Northern Ireland’s ‘ones to watch’, and, chilled out in the Exodus café to a lively set from Jason Clarke. Other artists included Shauna Tohill (Silhouette), Four Kornerz, Andy Flanagan, Rory Malone, the Emerald Armada and the worship leaders – the Rend Collective, David Lynas and William Thompson.
The estate became a ‘world within a world’, with various café–type venues and food tents in ‘The Village’ run by Urban Saints and Youth With A Mission, as well as an activities zone with everything from zorbing and segwaying (Google them if you don’t know!) to bouncy castles, laser clay pigeon shooting and a climbing wall to bungee trampolining and mountain biking (our kids enjoyed both of the latter). It was all good healthy open–air activity (never mind the mizzly rain from the Glens), and if that got too strenuous, one could retire to the CIYD ‘Connect’ tent for a little calm and a comfortable sofa to the Tear Fund marquee for a coffee (Fair Trade, of course).
I came away with the firm impression that Summer Madness is an invigorating, brilliantly conceived and well organised festival geared up to connect dynamically with young people to meet the challenges of living as a follower of Christ in the contemporary world. At times loud, messy and charged – just as it should be – but also spiritually reflective and often ‘chilled’, and located in exceptionally beautiful surroundings, it brought people together in a powerfully positive way within a friendly atmosphere. I’d heartily recommend the experience for young people, young adults and families – lack of sleep and a light coating of glaur can easily be remedied by a proper bed and a shower afterwards, and the memories and challenges will linger!”
Reproduced by kind permission of The Church of Ireland Gazette