The Farnham Christian Festival
(In Conjunction with the Tilford Bach Festival)

21st May — 4th June 2005

The aims and objectives of the Festival were to:

  • To be a visible presence of Jesus in our town to the people of Farnham.
  • To celebrate our unity in providing contexts for Christians of different churches and denominations to come and work together in mission for mutual encouragement and friendship.
  • To celebrate the diversity of our christian heritage by authentic congregational expressions of faith and mission.
  • To enable the people of Farnham to have the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus presented to them in a culterally relevant way.
  • To show that Christians are "normal" people with a genuine desire to help and serve our community.

The Christian Festival was a tapestry of arts events for all ages and tastes.  Thanks to the cooperation of the Tilford Bach Festival, we were able to offer a diet of top quality professional performances of pieces by Bach as well as other composers of the period.  The Festival began with a weekend which saw a Bach choral workshop and choral evensong at Tilford church, and a service and festivities which included a sit down meal in the nave at St.Andrew’s church to celebrate the completion of ten yearsrsquo; worth of building works.

Riding Lights Roughshod Theatre Company arrived to spend a week doing drama workshops in Weydon and Heath End Schools.  One teacher remarked that, even upon their return from the half-term break, the young people were still enthusing about how brilliant it was.  At Heath End School they worked with underachievers many of whom, their teacher says, have been set alight for the first time in their secondary school career.

Roughshod also did 5 performances in the area over the two weeks, attracting an audience of 50-65 each time, as well as a one-act play in the Gostrey Day Centre.  Their drama workshops attracted a small number of enthusiastic teenagers who entered the games and exercises with gusto.  The most challenging exercise was telling a story about a life changing experience in a series of silent tableaux.

Graham Hepburn again delighted audiences, this time at Farnham Baptist Church, with his unbelievably nimble fingers on the keyboard, together with his gentle and yet at times remorseless wit (as the writer, who arrived late, will attest!).  He played a mix of light classical and jazz pieces.  A musician friend of mine went ‘only for the first half — there’s a party I want to go to’ and stayed until the very end.  The sentiment of that same musician was “what a shame he is retiring to go into teaching ... but what lucky pupils he will have!”.

Dom Nicholas of Alton Abbey attracted a broad audience to St Thomas’ Church from across the denominations (how often will you find a charismatic evangelical enjoying the same Christian event as a Quaker?!), as well as many townsfolk who had seen it publicised in places like the library, to his talk about Jane Austen and Spirituality.

John Austin, who organised it, was pleasantly surprised by the response and ended up moving the audience to a larger area within the venue as numbers swelled to twice the number he was expecting.  Dom Nicholas skilfully wove together characters from right the way across Jane Austen’s book into a talk which explored the seven deadly sins and redemption.

The clown Roly Bain ran two workshops; one for adults and teenagers and one for children at the Maltings.  Those who attended the first one were told “circus tricks are easy - it’s making them look difficult that is hard”.  By the end, almost all of us had succeeded in spinning a plate on a stick - without cheating! - and had almost learned to juggle 2 balls.  Along the way, he gave us examples of how he had used these tricks in his sketches about faith and the Bible, and talked about the philosophy of using clowning to tell people about the Gospel.  The workshop for 8 to 12 year olds at the Maltings was fully booked.

Both Roly Bain and Riding Lights performed at the barbeque held in St.Andrew’s churchyard.  This was organised by a group of churches, and individuals from other churches, working together.  Over 1,300 burgers and hot dogs were cooked over the 4 days.  Thousands of invitations were given out in town in the hours before the BBQ, as well as over 400 helium balloons.  One customer at the BBQ said that her children had seen the balloons in Gostrey meadow and wanted one: they followed them upwind to the churchyard!  The atmosphere at the BBQ was mellow.  ‘Easy listening’ music was played over the PA between drama and clowning sketches.  Leaflets were available on the tables to explain why we were offering free food, and why we are Christians.  Table hosts used issues in the sketches to enter in conversation with the visitors.

Gentle music was meanwhile being played by live musicians at the Prayer Station - ‘a place 4U2 reflect’ - in Lion and Lamb Yard.  An artist was on hand to draw free portraits.  There were a variety of prayer activities such as a red heart-shaped balloon (representing the love of God) for people to stick on plasters with the names of people who needed prayer.  Reaction to this was muted but warmed during the week.  It made those of us who were involved realise how little a part God plays in the lives of most people.

I have had stories from several people of meaningful encounters during the Festival.  In some cases, it was a meeting between Christians from different churches.  In others, it was something said between them and a non-Christian.  I have been struck by how keen the local publicity machine - newspapers, etc - is to help us publicise things.  They are constantly looking for copy, and we are providing reportable events.  We need to make more use of this as a Christian community.  I was also struck by how keen the Maltings are to collaborate.  We see them as an outlet into the community (they send out 3,000 programmes every quarter): they see us as another network to plug into, to publicise the Maltings as a place to go.  I feel this symbiosis could be explored a lot more by the Christian community.

I feel that the Festival has been a good way to explore the ways in which Christians in Farnham could work together.  Many people I’ve spoken with seem to feel that unity is in some way about creating a sort of neutral Christianity which threatens no one.  I feel that this is a dead end, because by the same token it will excite no one as well!  I passionately feel that exciting things could happen in Farnham if people and churches came together in twos and threes to jointly organise events, which they have an enthusiasm for, and which will be open to the whole community.  Even ‘committed’ Christians seem to feel that, whilst things that they do may be motivated by their faith, their leisure time is to be spent either in their congregation or in the secular world.  I have found my faith enriched beyond measure by sharing time with people from other denominations.  Their different outlooks have carved beautiful facets into my understanding of God which would have never happened had I remained exclusively with other Anglicans.

Jane Still