Easter People celebrates its 20th anniversary this year in Blackpool which will be the final one, the culmination of an amazing journey of faith, vision and adventure!
When Rob Frost first put forward a proposal to start Easter People, it was turned down by every single Methodist committee he approached – something that was perceived as being too radical, too risky, and would never work! Frustrated, upset and despondent Rob shared this with a friend who prayed for him and believed that if this was of God it would happen and told him to go back and face the committees again. Amazingly each committee voted unanimously in favour of the event – God had answered his prayer and opened the door to an exciting new venture.
When the planning group met for the very first time to begin “Easter People”, back in 1987 it was envisaged initially just for a year – with the objective being an event for all ages with a time of teaching, celebration, fellowship and fun. It was an event that Methodists would be welcome at especially those with families and those who where not wishing to attend other events such as Spring Harvest. Being held in the week after Easter it enabled the then leadership team (then mainly Methodist ministers) the opportunity to participate. Also as it was held in the school holidays, it ensured that families were able to attend.
The aims of Easter People were the personal renewal and growth of Christian faith in the lives of individuals, and renewal in the Methodist Church, with the option of participation in a voluntary capacity to help run the event.
Easter People was birthed at Camber Sands, the Pontins holiday camp near Rye in Sussex in 1988 where Rev Dr Donald English led the Bible Studies on the Four Alls of Methodism. Over 900 people attended the event and it was a great success, so much so that it was decided to repeat it a following year on the same site, when the numbers rose to 1200. It was evident after the first two years that this was not just an event but an emerging movement that was clearly unstoppable.
Easter People outgrew the Pontins site and were faced with a dilemma of “Where next?” Other holiday camps were already booked at that time of year around the country so another option had to be sought. The idea of moving to a seaside resort was mooted as an alternative option and Llandudno was selected as the favoured location owing to the siting of a conference centre, plenty of options on accommodation, a good selection of churches as alternative venues and a wide promenade, which would be safe for children and young people. Furthermore, being located in a town gave a new opportunity for Easter People to engage in mission and outreach in the local community, to build up a rapport with the local churches in the area and to “ be seen”, rather than closeted in the confines of a conference centre.
After initial reservation and some opposition Easter People moved to a town location in 1990 with the Llandudno event and the resort location became one of the features of Easter People from then onwards. Easter People was subsequently taken to Torquay, Scarborough, Blackpool, Bournemouth and Southport. Numbers were growing each year and folk were able to attend for the full week, part of the week or just a day to sample the event.
Rob Frost has served as the Executive Director of the event for the full 20 years. Up until the year 2000, the event operated on one site and Rob facilitated a group of Line Managers who each looked after an aspect of the event on site such as a main venue, or specific area such as youth work, outreach, children’s work or exhibitions. This group would meet three – four times a year to plan, pray and prepare for the event and would recruit their own teams of people offering expertise and practical help.
This group was supplemented by a team of willing volunteers, all drawn from those attending the event, amassing around 1000 each year to enable the event to happen. Easter People has always had the ethos of participation and involvement, with a view that becoming involved in something has enabled many people to feel a sense of ownership and making a positive contribution to something worthwhile. Easter People “punters” have therefore been invited to help with anything from children’s groups, stewarding or outreach, to PA, AV, First Aid, prayer or being part of a Care Team.
In 2000 Easter People was held in Bournemouth and was one of the largest ever, with over 10,000 attending. The theme focussed on “Jesus in a New Millennium”. A new phase of Easter People was launched at the end of that week, which was to split the event into three different locations around the country all operating simultaneously. This would allow for new growth and encourage other denominations to take part, so moving away from a largely Methodist focussed event to a more interdenominational one. Whilst Rob remained overall Director of the event, core leaders of the management team were appointed to manage and run each of the new sites and they recruited and built their own teams. The branching out into new locations enabled and facilitated the growth and development of teams offering a plethora of skills and practical support. Rob and his small office team spent the time travelling between sites during the course of the Easter People week, speaking and contributing to each of the events and building a link between all three.
Over the years, Easter People has explored a diverse range of themes. It would be accurate to claim that it has significantly contributed to the making of the agenda in the Church as well as shaping future thinking. “Which Way for the Church” in 1997 looked at a vision for the future of the Church in the new millennium; With “Essence” in 2003 the theme of Christian Spirituality was explored and in 2005 “Free Spirit” explored Christian freedoms in the UK. Last year’s theme “the Way of the Cross” challenged us to walk and live the way of Christ.
There are many highlights, including the TV programmes that were filmed from Easter People, such as Songs of Praise and Morning Worship. In 1999. the year that Kosovo was invaded, the refugee crisis that resulted came to a head in the Easter People week. Easter People responded with immediacy and passion by mobilising the thousands attending to donate clothing or bedding to be sent out to Kosovo at the end of the week in several huge lorries. The action made headline news.
The Saturday outreach events have been extremely varied, including marches of witness through town centres, kite flying, prayers for the nation attached to balloons, protests such as “Make Poverty History” and open air presentations of the Passion Play in shopping centres.
Easter People has meant so much to so many people. It has been a vehicle for bringing people to faith, moving them on in their spiritual journey, leading them in a new vocational path, changing lives, empowering and growing leaders, equipping and resourcing the church, renewing the body of Christ, and bringing refreshing and blessing. There are countless testimonies of how God has worked in the lives of individuals, couples, families, church groups and the local community. It is with such gratitude to God that we celebrate with the theme “Amazing Grace” this year – reflecting and celebrating all that has happened, but at the same time looking forward to the next thing because we believe that God is always on the move and wants us to move on with him.
So as we celebrate the final event at Blackpool, it will be great to be back on one site all together for what we hope to be the largest Easter People ever. We will be centred in the Winter Gardens Complex which has huge venues and we have a superb line up of interesting and dynamic guests. Charles Price will be leading the Bible Studies each morning and there will be a daily programme offering something for everyone.
Christian artists who have been integral to Easter People over many years such as Adrian Plass, Paul Field, Simeon Wood, the New Methodist Youth Brass Band and Springs Dance Company will be performing on the fringe. The Emerging Culture youth venue will offer a diverse range of new talent with a cracking programme that gives young people the chance to get stuck in and be a part of what God is doing, as well as to chill out and catch up with friends. The Emerging Culture Team will continue to pioneer new expressions of worship and mission for the 21st century church.
Towards the end of the week a special ‘Retro Night’ will look back over the event’s twenty year history, pinpointing some of the more hilarious and memorable events. An indoor picnic for over 5,000 and a 20th birthday cake will also feature in the programme.
During the event, Rob Frost will be sharing the vision for a new, larger event in 2008, called the Pentecost Festival which will be held over Pentecost weekend (9 -11 May). Speaking about the vision behind the new Pentecost project, Rob said “The call to launch this new project came after I felt God was saying… ‘Create something that I would like to come to!’ That’s what’s driving this, a call to create a completely new style of event quite unlike anything on the Christian scene today… and to do something which will put Pentecost back into the national calendar!”
He continued “The more we explored this idea of an event given over completely to God, the more radical it became! We felt that Jesus would want to be at the heart of things, where the politicians, artists and opinion formers of our age are to be found. That’s why we’re bringing it to the heart of London!”
The team behind the Pentecost Festival is employed by Share Jesus International, a mission agency serving seven of the largest denominations in the UK. They have been briefing church leaders that the event must be multi-cultural, representing the richness and diversity of Christian expression across the world. They hope to facilitate the different ethnic groups to bring their cultural riches to the table.
During the consultations the organisers appealed to the different Christian organisations and church leaders to lay down any sense of competition, and instead to work collaboratively in putting the Pentecost Festival together in the belief that God would bless what expresses Christian unity in action.
Other key elements of the Festival include its ‘all age reach’, bringing different generations together to sample the best of Christian ministry, creativity and communication on offer today. Working in partnership with two major initiatives in the capital called Soul in the City London and the Global Day of Prayer, the Festival will prominently feature community action and justice and prayer initiatives over Pentecost weekend.
Andy Frost, the youth director of Share Jesus International said… “Above all we felt that anything which Jesus came to would be great fun! There would be art, and music and dance and food and a kind of creativity and community that the world would take notice of. That’s why we’ll be investing so much time and energy in making it an unmissable event in the Christian calendar!”
At Easter People 2007, we will be thanking God for all that is past, but looking forward to all that is to come! As John Wesley said: “The Best is Yet to Be”.
Marian Izzard is an Easter People Coordinator.
Headline Spring 2007 pp.16-19.