Not only in Stockholm and Amsterdam, but also in London, thousands of Christians have taken church out onto the streets over Pentecost with festive presentations of the message of Jesus. Totally independent of the events we reported over the last two weeks, the London Pentecost Festival saw a dazzling array of over a hundred events scheduled in different venues across the city.
Billed as ‘a birthday party for the Church’, the festival was initiated by the late Rob Frost and the organisation he founded, Share Jesus International. For Pentecost-a Greek word meaning ‘fifty’-is the day the church was born when Spirit was poured out on the early church, fifty days after the Resurrection.
From sober 24/7 prayer walks around Parliament and Whitehall, and a massive stadium prayer gathering on Sunday afternoon joining with millions around the world for the Global Day of Prayer, to interactive drum circles beating out rhythm on the streets and rock, funk, jazz, hip hop and soul music in parks and underground stations, Londoners were treated to a spiritual extravanza over what has traditionally been called Whitsun.
Images of a Christianity of little old ladies sitting in empty churches listening to droning sermons, à la Mr Bean, would have been dispelled by the colour, creativity and comedy of many events.
Offers to ‘get away from it all with inspiring and thought-provoking music and spoken word in a private capsule on the London Eye’, to enjoy the quiet and beauty of the historic King’s College chapel, or to attend a Christian Aid Concert in St Martins in the Fields, meant there were opportunities for all tastes.
Hit Christian pop opera Luv Esther, the Bollywood-style His Story, and Hope Academy, the finale of a nationwide Christian music talent search, were among the many other options for festival participants. A team of street pastors made themselves available for prayer or counsel for passers-by.
The Salvation Army family fun programmes, Westminster Abbey’s invitation to evensong, and colourful worship from many of London’s vibrant migrant churches added to the witness of unity and diversity across the city.
‘When churches unite, cities ignite,’ said Jonathan Oloyede, of Glory House, representing the new face of the migrant churches in London, and also the Global Day of Prayer which spread from Africa to all other continents. ‘I see the Pentecost Festival unifying the church in the capital towards real transformation,’ he added.
The Faraday Institute and Christians in Science sponsored crowd-pulling lectures on the relationship between science and faith. Was God a delusion, as Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins claimed in his book, The God Delusion? Oxford theologian Alistair McGrath, author of The Dawkins Delusion, addressed a packed auditorium at City University, countering claims that faith and science were incompatible, that religion led to violence and that religious belief was psychologically damaging.
Jesus did not perpetrate violence, argued McGrath, but instead had violence committed against him. Believing in this God is a disincentive to violence. McGrath challenged his audience ‘to go deeper in your faith by engaging in the agenda Dawkins has raised’.
Other science and faith events included an interactive workshop aimed at 8-16 year olds, discussing questions about science and faith and how it impacts our lives, and a look at the awesome nature of the universe. For young adults, other workshops enquired into an appropriate response to global climat
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Sports events, workshops on the homeless, chats about Christian faith on a canal boat, and sampling multi-cultural food helped round out the full programme of the festival. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. addressed the pentecost service in St Martins in the Field, on Trafalgar Square.
The message was clear and encouraging. European Christians are learning to take their message outside the church walls.