Outreach is hard work. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Even as a volunteer just being on your feet and talking to people is physically and emotionally draining. You couple that with the natural fear of talking about faith to strangers and it’s a surprise any church outreach ever happens. Fortunately we’re not doing it for ourselves so enough people rest into God and put aside their fears.
I mention this only to draw attention to how awesome something like Elemental Tent is. Each year for the last 5 years The Meon Valley Methodist Circuit has rolled up to The Wickham Music Festival and set up a spiritual oasis for all manned by 30 to 40 volunteers. 30 to 40 volunteers, giving up their time over a concerted period of time to serve strangers and seek nothing in return. That’s an impressive number of people from a circuit of 5 small to medium churches.
The thing with Elemental Tent is it’s not based on a church programme with hard and fast rules on how it looks and who it’s for and how it should be manned. The Tent is a concept based around a theological understanding of mission, an idea of what things make mission easier and an appreciation and understanding of the environment the mission takes place in. it’s not about surface, about one size fits all. It’s about dressing a deeper understanding in a suitable dressing.
At my home church we had tried Light Parties on Halloween for a number of years. They were, in all honesty, an abysmal failure. This year will be the fourth year we have taken the training behind Elemental Tent and applied it to Halloween with great success. The training, ethos and key elements behind it are transferable almost anywhere once you understand them.
The team who volunteered at the Wickham Festival were phenomenol. Conversations ranged from living off grid to cider making, as openers and launched into talk of Calling, God’s love, why does God allow evil and the place of The Green Man in the history of the church. Conversations were held with new friends and old friends, some had visited our tent from the very first time we were there.
As a circuit we built and continued building relationships with several hundred visitors over the long weekend. These people know us, they know we’re Christians and that we love them. That lightbulb moment when people suddenly decide to give their life to Christ is a wonderful thing but for most people it’s a slow experience, a build up of dozens, hundreds of small and positive encounters. When visitors come looking for you at a festival, when traders ask to be pitched near you at a festival, that’s when you know you’re showing the love of Christ in a way that is really changing people’s lives.