New Horizon is a big Christian festival in Northern Ireland’s Northcoast town of Coleraine. The event takes over a University campus for a week, putting up a large 3500 seater tent and uses university facilities for seminars, youthwork and sports. There are probably about 5000 people on site from all over Ireland with some fantastic youth and children’s ministry going on during the day.
There was a wonderful sense of generosity and hospitality – the stewards, staff and guests modelled a very welcoming and warm disposition which gave a fantastic feel to the whole event. Car park attendants, security and tech teams made everyone feel at home and modelled a servant hearted spirituality throughout. The event is free to go to – with a freewill offering held at each of the meetings. I love the fact that anyone can just walk in – I met some guys in a resteraunt in town who had come to the event because one of their brothers had died last week. These men were not used to going to church and were enjoying learning about the gospel at New Horizon. The fact that they could just walk into the event free of charge I’m pretty sure made a difference to them. In changing economic times – the organisers were asking this week for advice from the audience on how to handle the financial side of the event. The desire to welcome all and yet encourage those that can afford to pay for the ministry is a tough line to walk. May God grant the team wisdom as they decide the way forward and may he sustain the event’s lovely warmth and welcome .
2 Mission focussed
New Horizon has a very strong commitment to global mission which was present every night in the big top, the Hope Street late night venue and the exhibition. It was great to see such a core commitment to the importance and urgency of mission. So often mission is relegated to a fringe programme or an obscure seminar. So I really want to commend New Horizon for making mission central. The Hope Street venue run by MAP is great – there’s a great vibe in there. There’s excellent refreshments available a stage, good lighting, great live music and then an interview. When I was in there I saw lots of young people about.
I wonder if there might be room for the missions slots on the main stage to follow Hope Street’s example and connect a bit more with the younger generation? Perhaps some live links with indigenous Christian leaders from around the world? Some videos? However they choose to do it – I want to applaud New Horizon’s missionary vision.
3 Causeway Coast
What a beautiful place the North coast is. With the Giant’s Causeway some stunning beaches, surfing and coasteering available. It’s a great holiday destination so there’s plenty of exciting things to do in the afternoon. It makes a for a very relaxed feel to the conference with seminars and children’s programmes in the mornings and afternoons free for you to explore and relax before the evening service at 7.30pm. During one of the afternoons I had the privilege to visit Causeway Coast Vineyard’s church complex. Its an impressive site with some fantastic compassion ministries. Their foodbank is being put under heavy demand as local poverty seems to be on the rise. It made me wonder whether on one of the afternoons there might be scope for New Horizon guests to get together in a bit of all age social engagement. 5000 people could do a lot of good in the Coleraine in acts of service. It would definitely help to ground the strong emphasis on mission – this week an interesting article came out in Christianity Today raising the question about short term mission verses local mission – it’s worth a read here.
The main speakers for our week were:
Rick Watts – Professor of New Testament at Regent College Vancouver. Rick did an excellent job of walking the guests through a bigger picture of the gospel by exploring a holistic approach to the whole of the Bible. Starting with the image of God in Genesis he painted on a large canvas encouraging all of us to rethink our preconceptions about the big story of scripture.
Simon Ponsonby – pastor for teaching at St Aldate’s church in Oxford. Simon is a charismatic Anglican and gave some wonderful sermons on the church’s need to remember the poor. Simon talked about the success of his book More but the fact that his books on holiness and justice had not sold so well as an indicator of our appetite for self fulfilment rather than God’s priorities in the world.
Me – I am an evangelical Baptist who works for the Evangelical Alliance.
It was really broad speaking team – each speaker coming from a very different background and having a very different style. I struggle to think of a conference that could match that level of theological diversity and it is a joy to behold. There’s always room for improvement and it would be great to see women speakers and more of the global south represented- but I am sure this will come over time. The audience are well taught so discerning and well able to cope with new ideas and to test them against scripture. It was great to see Evangelical Alliance’s work in Northern Ireland ably represented by Peter Lynas and the team. The alliance seeks to gather believers from across the nation to speak out for gospel truth in the public square and to catalyse churches into effective action and so EA seemed an excellent fit for New Horions.
For me the real treasure at the heart of New Horizon is that the number of young people that are coming to the evening celebration. One of the evenings all the under 18s were asked to stand up and one of the leadership team estimated there were 800 present. There are plenty of young adults in their 20s present too. The deliberate decision to not run children’s programmes while the evening celebrations are on – encourages more young people to come along and is a genius move in my book. The age range was a lovely surprise to me as I was expecting an older audience. I spoke on Wednesday evening from 2 Timothy 2 on the subject of passing the baton onto the rising generation and the event is definitely doing that by making things accessible yet challenging to all ages in the evenings. As you may have read in the work I have been doing on helping the younger generation to mature into adult faith – multigenerational contact is a key part of it and so I want to heartily commend New Horizon for their vision in this area.
Overall a great week, I learned a lot and really enjoyed being with brothers and sisters from Northern Ireland. May God bless this gospel centred visionary event. 9