What a way to finish off our academic year! We were thrilled to play a major part in relaunching Southport’s very own free Christian music festival with lots of children and young people from a very busy term of work in schools.
In my first 9 months of working for SASW Trust, back in 2014, I felt led to help out my friend Tina Powsey in her outreach role for the Methodist Circuit to pioneer a local Christian music festival in the town centre – Sonfest Southport. The idea was to present the life-giving, life-changing message of Jesus Christ through live music and offer a day filled with free, awesome live music of a variety of styles from jazz to indie, to alternative and to gospel. At the heart of the town centre, I knew it would attract local families and young people that we knew from schools, but I never expected it would still be such a huge highlight of our schools ministry year all these years later.
Back To Our Roots
We were uncertain what to expect in 2022. The last festival was in July 2019, before the pandemic, and saw around 2000 people gather at Kings Gardens. We had been taking quality Christian bands from The Message Trust into secondary schools all week – experts in the field of musical performance and upfront communication with young people. They then all got together to put on an after-hours evening of hyped up fun, music, and Good News sharing on the Sonfest stage. Lots of young people came from schools and responded to the message they heard, which was the confirmation we needed to embark upon the epic Higher Tour early in 2020! So, three years later, what were we to expect?
When we prayed about Sonfest during the pandemic, we felt inspired to take the festival back to its roots at the bandstand where it all started. We also felt the idea of going ‘back to our roots’ was really poignant spiritually as well, after all the trials and ‘uprooting’ of the pandemic. We had in mind to plan in some ways of asking those attending the 2022 festival to consider some deep questions around where their roots in life are, using the same ‘Rooted’ resources from Scripture Union that we use in secondary schools.
We also had a great line-up planned, due to be headlined by SoulBox from The Message Trust who toured secondary schools with us in 2019. So this year we excitedly spent a term sharing with the hundreds of students at our secondary school Safe Spaces that SoulBox were coming and that Sonfest 2022 was not one to miss.
On top of that, we took some inspiration from our friend Chip Kendal with his huge Soul Children choir at Festival Manchester, and spent the last term working with St Philip’s school choir to put together an exciting performance of Gospel songs and choreographed dance. After weeks of practice, the point at which the choir performed with loads of parents and lovely school staff cheering them on brought a whole new dimension to Sonfest Southport. We really hope this is something we can continue to build on.
Along with the wonderful well-known Christian folk artist, Philippa Hanna, returning to perform alongside Pete McAllen from Pyramid Park, Vernon Fuller, and ex Greenbank High School student, Cara Cobham, we were all set for a great afternoon at the bandstand.
Last minute dilemma!
Four days to go and I get a phone call. Both members of the amazing duo that is SoulBox were put on urgent vocal rest by their doctors and had to cancel all their upcoming gigs. We were devastated for them. Of course, I also then sprung into panic mode as soon as I put the phone down – what about Saturday? Who would replace them? All the other bands of their calibre were on holiday and it was only a few days to go.
We powered through in the hope God would bring some good out of it all, which it turned out He did! With a bunch of young people expected to turn up to the bandstand that Saturday afternoon anticipating SoulBox, I had the inspiration to chase down a DJ to do a set of SoulBox’s songs. Hettie and I would be compèring the whole event anyway, so we could throw in some games, messages, competitions and energy during the DJ set.
Turns out finding a Christian DJ with just a few days notice is no easy feat either… So much so that I got to the point of buying my own set of DJ decks and learning to use them overnight!
Honestly, the whole day was amazing! All challenges to one side, I loved being involved and would highly recommend anyone reading this to attend or volunteer for future events. The best bit would have to be seeing the steady influx of young people we knew from our Safe Spaces coming by throughout the day. Lots of them popping up just to say hi and a great group of them who stuck around right through the festival, having fun with us and asking us lots of great questions about our faith. “What made you decide to become a Christian?” was probably the best one – coming from a young person of no faith background, whilst her parents we stood there listening in and happy for Hettie to share her testimony.
Even as the wonderful team of Sonfest volunteers were packing down, Hettie and I were still caught up having fun and great conversations with the young people, building on and finding real breakthrough in the relationships we’ve been working so hard on all year.