I’m sorry for the silence of recent days. Friday was absorbed with packing up tents ready for a speedy departure after the evening session. Saturday we unpacked and (sort of) prepared for Sunday, which was taken up with meetings and food. Monday we attacked our rather disorganised study. So, here we are on Tuesday evening, reflecting on the past week.
Well, it wasn’t as bad as we feared. Partly this was due to the wonderful weather we had most days, partly due to Sylvia’s supervision of us novices. I would do it again, but only if the tent was big enough to stand up in! Elizabeth? Don’t hold your breath.
The run-up to CLAN Gathering had been very busy, and the camping dominated our thinking, so I suppose I hadn’t given much thought to the event itself. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised. Whether it’s New Wine policy generally, or a Scottish emphasis on The Word, the Bible messages took most time.
Being able to join in singing with over 3,000 enthusiastic worshippers was a real treat. We have a fairly small congregation (around 40 on a Sunday morning). Whilst we love many of the old hymns and Salvation Army songs, it was good to sing some modern songs and learn some new ones. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of the “grey” generation present, alongside the younger people with families. There is clearly a desire to experience vibrant worship and God’s power among our senior brothers and sisters.
Of the worship leaders Brian Doerksen was our favourite. We weave songs throughout our own meeting to form a progression or story related to the theme. At CLAN Gathering, all the songs come at the start of the meeting. But Brian’s ability to write and perform in a variety of styles means we’ve already been on a journey before the teaching begins. We bought his CD Live in Europe, which provides a good selection of his music.
I approached this area with mixed feelings. The idea that God works in powerful ways is part of our Salvation Army heritage – though perhaps not talked about enough in recent years. But I’m also conscious that some groups within the wider church emphasise the manifestations of the Spirit above salvation and holiness. It was great to hear the speakers place the power of God in the context of a real saving relationship with him, and submission to his leading. Mike Breen emphasised that only those in a covenant relationship with God can expect to experience the power of his Spirit. Don Williams and Mark Stibbe both in different ways reminded us Jesus power came from his total submission to God. All of this is familiar territory to a convinced Salvationist, who believes that we are lost without the grace of God.
Some people expressed disappointment that the speakers this year were “not as good as last year.” This is a reflection of the cult of personality that peremates these events. Don Williams, Mark Stibbe and Mike Breen are proven pastors and church leaders; Alan and Elaine Storkey are sound theologians with practical experience in their respective fields and immense grace in their interactions with people; Frog and Amy Orr-Ewing in their relatively short ministry have experienced more than many church leaders will in a lifetime. The other speakers at seminars came to share their very real experiences of God’s hand in ministry. Names like RT Kendal and John Paul Jackson may attract the crowds, but they only represent a tiny percentage of the excellent work carried out for the Kingdom by nameless believers the world over who will get their reward in eternity. It is good to hear from leading figures in the church. But may the CLAN team continue to invite speakers for their practical experience and Godly teaching without too much regard for their public profile.
[Rant over! you can relax now]
In it’s early days, The Salvation Army was a disreputable organisation, with fainting fits, levitation, “excessive” emotions on both sides of the scale and generally rowdy prayer meetings following the appeal (altar call). In some respects, Todd Bentley’s performance (I can’t think of another word for it) as seen on God TV shouldn’t surprise me. I did wonder where on the scale the CLAN approach to ministry might come. I was surprised and delighted to find that it was very gentle. Whilst in the Denmark Hill training college of The Salvation Army, a group of us regularly visited a charismatic church in South London. On one occasion, I remember laying on the floor as the only alternative to being pushed over. It was very relaxing, but I didn’t experience any great spiritual awakening. In their enthusiasm to “impart a blessing”, some ministry teams can be rather overpowering.
From observation and personal experience, I know the team at CLAN Gathering took time to talk to those who came forward, prayed quietly and offered words or pictures they believed God revealed to them. In each meeting we were reminded to test everything that was spoken, both publicly and privately. This respect for people and for God was good to see.
Amongst all this, two things puzzled me. One was the session on Friday afternoon with Brent Borthwick, of Fresh Fire Ministries. I’ll write about that separately.
On the final night, Kenny Borthwick announced we would have a Tunnel of Fire. The ministry team formed a number of corridors — two lines facing each other — and we all trooped through as they laid hands on us and blessed us. Some folk said that it would be like nothing we’d ever experienced. They were right! Elizabeth doesn’t see in the dark, so our progress was slow and uncertain as I led her by the hand. Passing through the lines, it seemed that some of the ministry team pushed or pulled us about. The babble of voices was confusing, and far from being blessed we felt mauled. Looking at the others who had been through, a few seemed joyful, but most looked no different to when they went in. It’s not an experience I’d want to repeat in a hurry.
Overall, how do I rate CLAN Gathering? The Salvation Army has always been loth to criticise other churches, since we believe all Christians, in whatever groups they gather, are part of the Body of Christ. Hence I am able to participate in a wide variety of formal and informal church activities with relative ease. So I offer no theological comment on the CLAN Gathering beyond noting that the teaching seems to be firmly based on Scripture, which happily accords with our first Salvation Army Doctrine. Most other elements of the Gathering are either based on history and interpretation or arrived at for practical reasons.
The event well organised and accessible to most Christians. Some would need to be willing to venture from their comfort zones. The only reservation may be in terms of the (sung) worship, which was mostly quite loud and only included a couple of old hymns. A slight change here would ease the entrance for some who might otherwise label the event as overly emotional.
As a leader I’ve studied more than most who were present at the event. However, I have come away with a number of matters to ponder, not least the magnitude of the love of God in stooping to make a covenant with sinful man. The other issue that repeatedly tapped me on the shoulder was the necessity of sumission – not something I do easily. God has some work to do.
Would I go again? Definitely.
Would I recommend it to others? Certainly. I have no problem in talking it up even to my mostly retired congregation. Whether they would be willing to risk it, and to see beyond the unfamiliar to the passion for God that drives the CLAN team, I don’t really know. I only pray that some of that passion rubs off on me, and is caught by them.
So to Kenny and Rick and the rest of the team — thanks for a great event. And to God: what will we do next, Dad?