Big Church Day Out

June 7, 2017 by

Several weekends ago, I went to the Big Church Day Out South (BCDO), a Christian music festival in West Sussex, England. As in other years, the Bruderhof had a table distributing books published by Plough, our publishing house, but this year we sent more people, signed up as volunteers with Tearfund, and did shifts in their tea tent café. I loved every minute!

Volunteering with Tearfund was what made BCDO not just a good experience but a thoroughly enjoyable one. Our delegation was only twenty of the more than 200 volunteers who shared work, meals, worship, and a campsite from Friday afternoon through Sunday. Some had worked with Tearfund for years, but many were first-timers like me. We came from a wide variety of backgrounds, not to mention countries, but almost immediately we were one team.

girls a the cash register during the Big Church Day Out event

I appreciated how enthusiastic, dedicated, and caring all the organizers and volunteers were. It was relatively easy to keep this up at the tea tent where there was always a crowd of us serving drinks, snacks, hundreds of cream teas – and yes, dancing to the music in between. The audience team had a more difficult task, roaming the crowds to tell people about Tearfund’s work and ask for donations. They did a fantastic job, raising enough funds to give over 17,000 people Tearfund’s revolutionary farming training, but some told me how they also took time to listen if someone just needed to talk.

When not on shift at the tea tent, we from the Bruderhof wore T-shirts with “Ask me why I live without money” printed across the front. We brought them along as a bit of an experiment, unsure if wearing them would actually encourage questions.

people talking together at the Plough table during the Big Church Day Out event

I didn’t get any at first. Whether due to the stereotypical British reticence or the fact that there was just too much else going on, all the conversations I had on Saturday morning were self-initiated. Everyone I spoke to among the crowds waiting by the main gates or the various organizations in the bazaar happily answered my questions, and they even asked a few in return, but never: “Why do you live without money?”

So, why does the Bruderhof live without money?

Around noon I changed into my Tearfund T-shirt and headed for the tea tent. The first customers I served greeted me with the question, “Where are you from”? There were several of us women from the Bruderhof behind the counter; presumably they had noticed our head coverings and long skirts. I told the customers about the Bruderhof and our partnership with Tearfund, and asked them where they were from and why they had come to BCDO. In my three-hour shift I had many such conversations, mainly with people who had never heard of our communities before. I helped customers and kept the tables stocked, but spent at least as much time explaining where I was from, who we were, and why we were there helping to run the Tearfund café.

several girls volunteering during the Big Church Day Out event

That turned out to be typical of the weekend. Regardless of which T-shirt I was wearing people were sure to stop me and ask “Who are you?”, “Where are you from?” and – yes, finally – “So, why do you live without money?” Whatever the question, my answer included a brief outline of our church and its history, but I then let the conversation take its course. Some people were content with a basic description but many dug deeper, asking about our membership vows, family life, and leadership, as they tried to understand the practical and spiritual implications of shared life and livelihood.

At BCDO, I saw that there are hundreds of Christians taking concrete steps to make their faith affect their life. Witnessing the dedication with which so many devote themselves to causes of social justice, evangelization, and community (not least my friends on the Tearfund team) was greatly encouraging to me and, I hope, to the thousands of others who attended the event. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Veronica Shirky lives at Darvell, a Bruderhof in East Sussex, UK.


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