The Big Church Day In 2020

Sundays have been proving to be quite makeshift for me as a Christian, dipping into different services each week to check out what different churches are doing and how they are managing to connect and engage with people online. This Sunday was no different, though my focus turned from the weekly service to an annual event. Big Church Day Out is a popular Christian music festival normally taking place in a big field over the Bank Holiday weekend. But of course, this year, the normal has not been possible. Rather than cancel however, they decided to present their ‘Big Church Day In’ on YouTube, featuring an array of music and spoken word artists from across the spectrum. And it did not disappoint, proving to be an uplifting, inspiring and eye-opening afternoon.

Having had my country music fix the day before via Buckle & Boots virtual festival, it was great to find Our Atlantic Roots continuing that vibe with some wonderfully wistful folk-Americana to kick things off. Former Fame Academy judge Carrie Grant then gave us a heartfelt song full of soul before Tom McConnell brought a lovely bit of RnB acapella in a cleverly constructed video. One of the great things about these online events is seeing the ingenuity that goes into the creation of videos. And after Tom’s effort, both IDMG Gospel Choir and King’s Chamber Orchestra also utilised technology to bring us what is now a classic Zoom performance of the various members performing together in unison. Cathy Burton then performed her song ‘I Get to Know You’ before Mister Keith subtly combined a mix of genres to create a really interesting sound on ‘Dig a Little Deeper’. Ruti delivered a really interesting version of ‘He Lives in You’ from The Lion King, the stripped back nature of the track unveiling fresh meaning in the words that I had never noticed before. The Brilliance followed with an inspired tune that lifted my eyes to the skies before Sarah Letor encouraged them back to the screen for a song with a really nice beat. We then returned to the country genre to finish, first with a delightful track from Philippa Hanna that couldn’t fail to raise a smile, and then The Abrams, who knocked it out of the park with the fiddle-heavy ‘Sounds Good to Me’.

The second hour, hosted by Lindz from LZ7, may not have been my personal cup of tea in terms of music, but it still featured some really talented artists with a penchant for clever and inspiring lyrics. For example, the chorus to Faith Childs’ ‘Ricochet’ was well worth a listen, whilst ‘Discrepancy’ by Soul Box was first-rate. Beyond the rap/RnB that was mainly presented in this hour, I did discover a great indie pop band by the name of Paradise Now, hailing from South Wales. And it was great to see Lily-Jo among the line-up, someone who always brings such deep encouragement and inspiration through her songs, helped in part by her incredibly soulful voice.

Hour three brought us some unplugged tracks from a selection of really talented young artists. Among them was Joe Baxter, who kicked things off with the hauntingly beautiful ‘In My Blood’.  Jennifer Kamakazi followed with a lovely blend of folk, pop and RnB in a song that made you feel every single word. Meanwhile, Dani Miche needn’t have worried about releasing her new song ‘The Wilderness’ into the world. It was excellent and showcased her brilliant talent. Elsewhere in this hour, Ellyn Oliver delivered a song that created an awesome atmosphere around it; and Rebekah Fitch produced a powerful blues performance whilst sat at the piano in her living room. It was also great to hear Rachel Jane again, having first come across her last year at Naturally Supernatural. This lady has immense talent, as proven in her chosen song for this festival, which featured a brilliant bricolage of different genres and styles. With a new EP out next week, Rachel Jane is definitely set for bigger things.

The Spoken Word “stage” led to a truly inspiring hour of poetry, with new work written specially in lockdown alongside older pieces that took on fresh resonance in light of the current situation. Hosted by Dai Woolridge, it featured the incredibly powerful ‘Becoming Human’ by Joshua Smith and ‘Quiet Be Still’ by Aimee Picton to start. Storm Cecile then brought us a poem delivered in the style of a Presidential Address that cut through sharply, both politically and culturally. Laura Darrall’s ‘The Driver’ was a complete gut punch, reducing me to tears by the end. Meanwhile, Haydn delivered for me the most memorable line of the day: ‘We are made in your image, so our heart is restless until it rests in you’. So beautiful and true. And Sophie Thakar was chosen to close this section of the festival with a performance that exemplified the dual mix of complexity and simplicity found in poetry. How these guys condense such thick subject matter into a few short lines leaves me in awe every time.

Following on from this was a time of sung worship, in which the likes of Lucy Grimble, King’s Village and Tim Hughes succeeded in bringing a calm air to proceedings which was perfect in the late afternoon sun. As someone who has had a difficult relationship with “worship songs” in the past, I think what I found most encouraging about this hour was the sheer number of original songs being performed by these artists. In our churches, so much of the musical output seems to follow one of two patterns: either all the hymns predate this millennium, or all the songs can be attributed to one or two megachurches. This doesn’t automatically make them bad. But when we hold so tightly to tradition or become so invested in capitalism that we forgo the opportunity to empower our own musicians with the resources, support and encouragement to write and perform their own material, I think we lose something valuable. That is why I found it so refreshing to find so much individual creativity being expressed here on screen.

Big Church Day Out seems to have found the right balance between giving a platform to new artists and presenting established ones. It was the latter that were on show for the final part of the day. The Main Stage featured some very familiar faces, not all of which I was able to see due to its teatime slot. Of those that I did manage to catch, Lin D were definitely a highlight, perhaps because I’m a sucker for close harmonies, which the two leading ladies had in abundance. Kim Walker-Smith was her blisteringly brilliant self, bringing plenty of pizazz to ‘More Than Enough’. Rend Collective were in a very reflective mood with their contribution, as were Hillsong United, whose song ‘Oceans’ never fails to produce a tangible presence in the room. Matt Redman was the man tasked with bringing the curtain down on this soul-enriching day, ‘We Praise You’ being suitably stirring, as the raft of comments that began appearing beside the video testified.

The ‘Big Church Day In’ certainly succeeded in its endeavour to recreate the festival atmosphere, bringing together artists from across the spectrum, all bound together by their faith. It is understandable that the organisers (and regular attendees) will be eager to get back to normal next year with the usual set up. But I hope that they also consider doing something similar online for those, like me, who would have struggled to get to the physical thing. This was an event that was readily accessible to anyone with an internet connection. That’s one of the great advantages of this increasingly virtual existence. But whether it returns online or not, I really appreciated spending another day in isolation with this for company.

To find out more about The Big Church Day Out click here.

Featured Image (C) Big Church Day Out

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