The Celebrate congregation based in Prior’s Park, Tewkesbury have been on a week’s trip to the Christian Adventure Centre at Viney Hill. 32 people, including 19 children and teenagers went as a church to the adventure centre to camp, learn, share stories, and grow in faith.
Celebrate is a pioneer church, whose members don’t meet in a traditional church building. They create their church based on the needs and preferences of their community. The Revd Wendy Ruffle, the local Pioneer Minister, started to gather people into this worshipping community in 2011. It now has approximately 70 members and most of them have come to faith during their time with this worshipping community.
A large part of the funding for the trip came from Gloucestershire County Council’s Covid Recovery Fund, as much of the church have particularly challenging situations to deal with at home, which has meant that the church’s children and teenagers have been particularly hard hit by the Covid situation. For most of the congregation, the church trip is their annual holiday.
Wendy said, “We were looking at our story and Jesus’ story and how the two are linked together. We used a lot of storytelling and parables to explore this.
“One of the girls who came along had told her mother that she had lost her faith before the holiday, but that the story sharing and hearing about Jesus afresh had helped her to rediscover her faith. This is what Jesus does if we’re intentional and push onwards with what he is calling us to.”
Every day, the church met for a short time of worship and prayer in the morning under a marquee, to keep things covid safe. In the evening, they worshipped around the campfire accompanied by acoustic guitar.
Wendy continued, “As the week went on, we developed a sense of stillness in our worship, which was led by our worship leader who was recovering from illness and led for the first time in over 2 years. It was powerful and very memorable, being there together and worshipping in such intimate surroundings.
“We held a session specifically for the teenagers and lots of them shared the challenges that they are experiencing. Some of the adults were able to share ways in which their lives had held similar challenges, which the teenagers found truly helpful.”
All ages and families including the teenagers were also catered for through adventure activities like bushcraft and bridge-building which brought the community together. Part of Celebrate’s mission is to care for the well-being of the whole person – mind, body, and spirit.
As Wendy said, “We like to get people out doing physical stuff and experiencing new things, which raises self-esteem and confidence. Being outdoors in such fabulous surroundings and being physical is such an aid to healing and good mental health.”
During the lockdown period, they created a busy WhatsApp group with morning and evening prayers, and people post prayer requests and updates on what’s going on in their life to share with the church community, which has just carried on as it’s been so popular and helpful to everyone.
Wendy said, “We are very raw, open and vulnerable as a church. We try to model ourselves on the early Church of Acts 2, and always ask ourselves what Jesus would do. We show love and acceptance of all our members and the decisions that they make.
“I hope people have come away from this trip feeling equipped for the next phase of life, whether at school, or in a new community, or with whatever happens. Some people have experienced healing and equipping for service, and I believe all have known that they are loved by God and deeply connected with Christ’s story.”