The Church has left the building!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Church has left the building!

Andy Stonehouse

The slogan was printed on thousands of programmes, t-shirts and banners right across central London. It was Saturday morning. I was standing on a balcony overlooking Leicester Square. Beneath me, a stage was being assembled, bands were sound checking, and invitations were being handed out. Similar scenes were being re-enacted throughout the Capital. Vision was becoming reality. The Church had indeed left the building!

I first heard about the vision for Pentecost Festival some time ago. Rob Frost was staying with me just after returning from the States, before another UK preaching engagement. ‘I want to bring you up to speed with an idea for a new festival,’ he said and out rolled the vision that was to become Pentecost Festival. It was to be a festival ‘that Jesus would want to come to’, the church taking the life of the Gospel out onto the streets in celebration with hundreds of events throughout central London: ethnically, socially and generationally diverse. It would be a whole smorgasbord of events with music, dance, drama, comedy, debating, food, sport, poetry, literature, film, worship, prayer and study. What a vision it was!

Then came the invitation to the consultation meeting. It was to be held at a suitably crazy venue that matched the crazy vision for a crazy event: a boat on the River Thames! I had never been in a meeting before, during which the participants turned increasingly green as the room rocked from side to side! It was a fascinating meeting as bishops, leaders of large Christian organisations, members of the press and many others came together to share the vision. Things began to take shape. Ten of the Christian organisations agreed to host large events on the Friday evening to begin the whole festival. Gradually, dozens of smaller groups began to sign up, in the end putting on well over a hundred different events.

It is often said, the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Suddenly Rob was with us no longer. Having lost his battle with cancer, he was promoted to glory, but what a legacy he left. Rob’s son, Andy, who had shared the vision for Pentecost Festival from the beginning, was handed the baton.

It must be almost impossible to imagine the stress he faced in working to make vision a reality, yet at noon on Thursday, 8th May, Andy stood on a specially-built stage in Trafalgar Square to launch the very first Pentecost Festival. He spoke of the need to rediscover Pentecost in order to become ‘a movement of people who passionately want to communicate the love God has for the world’. The Church, he said, ‘has left the building … the Church is alive and active’. He was joined by the Bishop of London who spoke of the life of the church as London’s best kept secret.

Pentecost Festival was underway. It was, as its website said it would be, ‘A massive weekend party in central London with hundreds of free events and high impact performances; a cross-generational, multi-cultural celebration of the Church’s creativity and compassion.’ It was thrilling to be part of it all.

Pentecost Festival

Plans for Pentecost Festival 2009 are already underway. It will be bigger and brighter, but at the heart of it all will remain the life-transforming Gospel. From the heart of London, a challenge has been issued to the whole church throughout the country and beyond: to take the Gospel out of our buildings and onto the streets, in celebration of the Lord of Life. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Church has left the building!

For more information about Pentecost Festival, visit www.pentecostfestival.co.uk. The new book, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Church has left the building: Pentecost’, published by Authentic Media and available from Share Jesus International, describes the broader vision behind the festival. The next Pentecost Festival will be from 29th to 31st May 2009.

Photos from Alison Whitlock and Andy Stonehouse

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