AS glorious sunshine beats down on the grand surroundings of the Arnold KEQM School, on the Fylde coast, hundreds of Christians, young and old, are mingling and enjoying the festivities.
The Right Rev Julian Henderson, the ninth Bishop of Blackburn, is on the main stage addressing worshippers from throughout the county.
His main message is one of confidence; confidence in the gospel, confidence in their beliefs, and confidence in the ‘togetherness’ of the Anglican family.
The Diocese Summer Festival, besides its main two stages of song, praise and dance, is interspersed with a host of tents keen to emphasise the work the church does outside of the average Sunday service.
Bishop Henderson says the event is about ‘fun and fellowship’, but adds that it is also an ‘opportunity to introduce others to Jesus’.
“Firstly, it’s about trying to bring all the different sections of the Diocese together,” he says. “It’s a chance to say, ‘We are a family of God’s people’.
The bishop adds: “There may be certain parishes which almost never interact with each other, so it’s important we have events like these to see all the great things that everyone in the Diocese is doing.”
Schoolchildren from St Wilfrid’s CE Academy, Blackburn; St James’s, Lower Darwen; All Saints CE Primary School, Clayton-le-Moors; St Leonard’s CE Primary School, Langho; St Paul’s, Oswaldtwistle and St Michael’s CE High School, Chorley, were among those who took to the stage to keep the crowds entertained.
Other attractions included the Messy Church, which teaches youngsters about theology through arts and crafts, a stall about the Diocese’s ties with food banks, and Not Just Sundae, which sought to teach the meaning of Christ using . . . ice cream.
The Right Rev John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley, agreed with Bishop Henderson that the church’s family feel was cause for celebration. Bishop Goddard, who is set to retire next month after 43 years as a clergyman, said: “I think it’s a really exciting time for the church. If a family never gets together, it loses contact. Numbers aren’t the be all and end all, but if you look at a Sunday service, you may see 100 or so people.
“When everyone comes together like this, you can see we are a massive family.”
Cheryl Pendlebury, from Billington, was at the festival with a group from All Saints, in Clayton-le-Moors.
She said: “It’s been absolutely fantastic. It’s wonderful to see so many Christians together.”
Trisha Taylor, from St Oswald’s, Knuzden, added: “It’s great to meet other parishes and schools. We learn from each other and it’s the sort of thing we should do more often.”
Aside from the fun and games being marshalled by church volunteers, there is a serious side to the festival.
A Diocesan Eucharist takes place, and, on day two, worshippers walked to the festival grounds from Lytham Windmill and Todmorden Road before a huge Pilgrim Praise service.
Throughout the event — which was promoted with a YouTube video — parishioners are encouraged to use the Twitter hashtag #diosummerfest to update followers.