Written by Mike Beecham
Recently, myself, Clive Ozzard, Dan Clapson and Garrie Todd packed up a car-load of camping gear, and headed off to a field near Swindon for an event called ‘The Gathering’, a mens-only weekend, run by an organisation called ‘Christian Vision for Men’.
The Gathering is one of those events which, if you’d tried to describe it to a mate, would probably leave them with a raised eyebrow and a doubt in their mind as to whether you were telling the truth or not. It’s not your ordinary weekend away…
We arrived on the Friday evening and, after unpacking and setting up our camping gear, set off to book in at the two main marquee tents. One tent is used as the main marquee…where much of the worship, activities and teaching are held, with the other tent used as a ‘Mess Tent’ (‘Mess’ as in the military version, not the untidy version…although the latter is also probably appropriate at times!). We headed off into the Mess tent and took time to walk around the formula 1 and 3 racing cars on show. When we finished there, we could also have a crack at the foosball table, cage football, Scalextric, Racing Simulators, Archery, and a number of other activities. There was also a fully-functioning bar, serving everything from water, cider and Guinness, to local ales and lagers.
Around 7:00pm, the event officially gets going with a formal welcome and introduction to the weekend. We start off with a light-hearted (but also very competitive) darts tournament on the main stage, followed by a few funny videos, which then lead nicely into a great time of sung worship, led by Graham Kendrick (the resident worship leader at these weekends!). We’ll have maybe a short message given by (usually) Carl Beech, one of the trustees of CVM. Later on in the evening, we break up for a while, then head into the mess tent for the annual ‘Tins and Hymns’ – a time where we grab a beer (or two) and sing some older hymns together for an hour or so. It sounds a little strange, I know, but over 1000 men singing hymns to God, over a beer is actually quite moving. That’s followed by a ‘pub quiz’, just to round off the evening’s entertainment.
Saturday starts early with morning devotions (for those already up!), which leads nicely into the the first part of the day, which includes the continuation of the darts tournament, a few funny videos, a time of worship with Graham, then the mornings’ message/testimony. This year we heard from Arthur White, who was the undefeated British, European and World weightlifting champion. He tells his story of rags to riches, organised crime to meeting Jesus, and how he now goes about telling his story. It was both powerful and challenging. This definitely set the scene for the evangelistic aspect of the weekend.
From lunchtime through the evening, there’s then a range of activities you can get involved in, from inflatables, to scalextric, 5-a-side football, volleyball, looking over the mass of exoctic, vintage and sports cars, as well as all the other mess tent activities. There are also seminars and workshops taking place, covering topics such as ‘Being a Christian in the workplace’, to ‘Telling your mates about Christ’. The bar is open, as is the coffee stall! Around 3pm, the RAF from Brize Norton (just up the road!) organised for a Hurricane Fighter to complete a few fly-bys for the blokes, which was very well received by all.
Saturday night is ‘Theme Night’, with this years theme being ‘Hats’. You should try to imagine 2000+ blokes in a marquee with hats ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous! (I have a photo of man with a cooked chicken hat on his head!). We discuss a series of controversial ‘Top 10’s, which include ‘Top 10 Cartoon Villains’, ‘Top 10 Cop Shows’ and ‘Top 10 breakfast cereals’. We then enter into a time of worship, then Carl Beech (Trustee of CVM) delivers his powerful evangelistic message. This is a stirring moment, as many men come to Christ for the first time, and others re-dedicating themselves. As they come forward they are met by their brothers in Christ, where they are hugged and wept-over. It’s an incredibly emotional time. We go from emotional to excitable as we enjoy a Neil Diamond/Elvis Presley tribute act…which is the same guy, just in different outfits! We have a good old sing-song in one tent, then over to the mess tent for Karaoke! We round the night off outside for the fire-pit and firework display.
Sunday morning starts with both early devotions and a morning run (to work off all the burgers, sausages and bacon!), then into what CVM call the ‘Big Sunday’. We’ve got the finals of the Darts tournament, Worship with Graham Kendrick, more Top 10s, more spot prizes, then the morning message with Andy Hawthorne (of the Message Trust), then rounding off the weekend with communion. Communion with a tent full of blokes is an amazing time, let me tell you!
It may seem from the outside, that it’s just a weekend for a bunch of blokes to get together and have a bit of fun. I suppose, in one sense, it is…we get to unwind a little, we get to be a little bit silly. But it’s more than that. It’s a band of brothers, taking a weekend to walk through our journey in a way that the guys around us will understand. We get to be open, honest and raw about our faith. We get to share life with those who share life in a similar way. And if Jesus could share a fish breakfast with his mates, it seems right we share a beer and burger with ours.