The UK's Big Church Day Out event returned for its biggest year yet over the June bank holiday weekend. Louder Than The Music's Dave went along as some of the world's best Christian music artists entertained the huge crowd.
Big Church Day Out
2nd June 2012, Wiston - West Sussex, UK
Now in its fourth year, the Big Church Day Out has firmly established itself as one of the best events in the UK for Christian music. Having been fortunate enough to attend this event each year, my family and I always look forward to our annual visit to the grounds of the magnificent Wiston House in West Sussex for BCDO, and this year was no different. Arriving on site shortly after lunch time on Saturday, there was already a wonderful atmosphere building as we made our way across the field from the car park to the main arena. Surrounded by the now familiar ring of flags around the natural grassy amphitheater of the main stage, the arena was packed with people readying themselves for a full day of great entertainment. The really keen had arrived early enough to get up close to the stage, where as those preferring a more gentle environment were set up in their deck chairs or gazebos around the fringes of the arena. Regardless, everyone had a great view of the large imposing stage, thanks in part to the gentle upward slope of the grass away from the stage, and of course due to the two large video screens on either side of the stage.
First up on mainstage was 'local band' Phatfish and their brilliant lead singer, Lou Fellingham. Opening with their reworking of the old hymn 'To God Be The Glory' they quickly had the crowd singing along, spreading a worshipful atmosphere across the crowd. With songs from their latest album 'Higher', plus older favourites including 'Amazing God (Looking In The Sky)', this was an assured performance and the perfect start to the day. The only downside was some light rain which started to fall, but it was quickly replaced by the sunshine which soon became gloriously bright and warm.
Before long the second mainstage act of the day were ready, as Northern Ireland's Rend Collective Experiment received a warm welcome from the enthusiastic crowd. Like the band before them, this worship group opened with their own interpretation of a well known hymn, 'You Are My Vision', which with its updated lyrics was easily sung by the thousands present. If there was an award for the largest variety of instruments on stage, Rend certainly won it. Not content with your standard drums, keyboard and guitars... this group had everything from brass and percussion to banjo and dustbin - yes, there was beating of the bin on stage in time to the music! With such creativity and passionate songs, no wonder stage host Pete Greig (24-7 prayer) described them as his favourite worship band. Playing songs from both of their studio albums, Rend included 'Movements' and 'Second Chance', engaging the crowd and keeping us entertained with what they called a 'shin-dig'!
The problem with an event so crammed full of things to do like BCDO is that you simply can't see everything. So, with our two kids (aged 5 and 7) having watched the first two bands of the day on mainstage, they decided it really was time their parents took them off to explore the site. So while Leeland performed on stage, we headed off to see what else was on offer. Having enjoyed the horse riding, we took the tractor and trailer ride up to Wiston House where farm animals were on show, bouncy castles available, and plenty of other family oriented entertainment to be enjoyed. This truly is a family event, with something for every age group. One moment the Salvation Army band were performing well known worship songs, then a few minutes later dancers performed well rehearsed routines to a Chris Tomlin song.
Californian worship leader Phil Wickham was next on mainstage, performing songs including 'Heaven Fall Down', 'Cielo (I Can't Sing Loud Enough)', 'True Love', and the old church song 'Spirit Of The Living God'. I have to admit, the moment I had been waiting for most was Newsboys. Having seen them at last years BCDO I knew their live show was something special, and once again this brilliant band didn't disappoint. Performing all the best songs from their two recent albums, 'God's Not Dead' and 'Born Again' (including both title tracks), lead singer Michael Tait sung with flamboyance as they rocked through their set list. Highlights included their covers of worship favourites 'Your Love Never Fails' and 'Mighty To Save', plus older tracks like 'He Reigns' and "from the archives" the DC Talk classic 'Jesus Freak'. I could watch this band all day, with four musicians at the top of their game playing songs that any crowd can join in with, they really were superb.
Just as the daylight was dimming into evening, BCDO stalwart Israel Houghton came on stage with his New Breed band. Joining them on guitar was Michael Gungor, writer of one of the best songs of Israel's set, 'Friend Of God'. Running through a list of popular worship songs, they sung 'Our God Is An Awesome God', 'Our God Is Greater' and 'Mighty To Save', before playing the title track from Israel's forthcoming live album 'Jesus At The Center'. As he finished his performance the rain was starting to fall again, and by the time the evening's final performers - Tim Hughes and Worship Central - arrived on stage, the rain was nearing torrential. The merchandise tent was doing a roaring trade in BCDO branded umbrellas, and soon the stage was besieged by a sea of umbrella wielding music fans. Only in England can you get sunburnt and soaked by the rain in the same day!
Despite the weather, Tim Hughes quickly had the crowd singing along as they performed their incredible worship anthems. Whilst the brilliant 'Happy Day' might not have been a sentiment shared by my dripping wet kids at that precise moment, it was fair to say that the damp weather did not dampen the Spirit. Ben Cantelon took the lead for 'Jericho' before the stunning Worship Central track 'Spirit Break Out' set a glorious sense of worship shining out from the brightly lit stage.
Once again BCDO had delivered another brilliant day of worship and entertainment for our family, giving us the opportunity to see some of the finest Christian bands and singers of the moment, mixing fun and worship for a truly memorable day. Thank you BCDO!