Aged 61, he no longer feels that it is right for him to lead a movement that seeks to reach those young enough to be his grandchildren. One by one, other members of the small, tight-knit team that runs Soul Survivor had told him that, when he stood down, they would go, too. In the end, he decided to close down the festivals for good.
This decision to call it quits was surprisingly easy, he says. The priority was always to see young people become Christians.
Although not every meeting in the Big Top includes an explicit call for the teenagers to come forward and profess faith for the first time, every day dozens do. There was nothing special about the Soul Survivor formula, he insists. He tells the story how a year-old about to come to Soul Survivor for the first time messaged him on Facebook to ask which night was the best to become a Christian.
What do you think? Last year, an older man came up to him after one of the main sessions to say thank- you. His year-old son, attending for the first time, had just become a Christian. Each year, Soul Survivor records how many teenagers come forward: in , some did, out of a total of 32, attending the three weeks. In the past ten years, more than 15, delegates have become Christians, the organisation reports.
IT IS not hard to find non-believing teenagers at the festivals. Evie and Zara, both in their early teens, had come along with some Christian friends they knew. Literally everyone just smiles at you and tries to talk to you. I just find it really cool. Evie seemed genuinely attached to Canon Pilavachi and the other regular characters on the stage in the Big Top.
It makes you question really, whether you should be following Christianity. Many of those interviewed spoke without prompting of how many ordinands had either become Christians at Soul Survivor or first began to feel a call towards the priesthood during the festivals. Twenty years later, it seems that many responded. The reason that children and young people are emptying the pews is clear — but is the Church listening, asks Ali Campbell. Despite its status as a non-denominational event, every year, Soul Survivor has put on a seminar for anyone interested in Anglican ordination, often run by theological- college principals.
The impact has been particularly felt in the church-planting movement, he says. But more important was attending the annual seminar on ordination. It immediately connected his newfound zeal for evangelism with a tangible career-plan. When it was announced last year that Soul Survivor in would be the last, a meeting of the clergy team at HTB where Mr Haigh served as a curate realised that every person present had either become a Christian, had a significant encounter with God, or felt called into ministry at the festival.
Mr Hughes, who grew up attending the Watford church, and whose worship songs are now sung worldwide, says that Canon Pilavachi was instrumental in encouraging him to start composing Features, 24 September He remembers how, as a teenager, he would attend the early Soul Survivor festivals, fall in love with the Big Top worship, buy the songbook, and then learn how to play the new hits on his guitar when he got home.
There is almost nothing else in the Church that is reaching young people on the same scale, he says.
Saying goodbye to Soul Survivor
Although this influence extends beyond the C of E — for years, the festival has included a Roman Catholic mass on the final day — Canon Pilavachi confides that the movement is more Anglican than it may have appeared. Relations with the diocese of St Albans are excellent, he says. Progressive Christians have good news to impart, not pre-packaged solutions, says Miranda Threlfall-Holmes. Perhaps the excellence of the festivals had allowed churches to rely too heavily on Canon Pilavachi rather than build up their own youth ministries.
The Soul Survivor team chose to pick out three existing festivals to advertise prominently during their final weeks: Dreaming The Impossible, run by the Vineyard network; Limitless, from the Elim Church; and Movement, which grew out of a group of Anglican churches in Somerset. At the main evening meetings, Canon Pilavachi invited the leaders of these three festivals to introduce themselves and their events.
He is also planning to speak at some of them in , to ease the transition.
The teenagers present in Peterborough seemed sad that their familiar festival was closing down, but intrigued about what the future might hold. We need to encourage church leaders to be mothers and fathers. Ask me in five years if it really happened. Writer and blogger Joanna Sopylo-Firrisa has worked as a freelance journalist in Poland and has written for various media in the UK.
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Written by: Joanna Sopylo-Firrisa joannafirrisa. Soul Survivor Outdoor has taken the initial concept of the outdooradventure events conducted at Joshua Tree National Park and has developed an enduring mission. Who We Are.
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