For the past two weeks I’ve been in the U.K. with my good friend Steve Nicholson. When I first announced to some friends that I’d be heading to England this year, they asked me why. My answer was simple: Steve is a pneumatological Jedi Knight. One would have to be, as the Brits say, daft not to jump at that opportunity! The learning opportunities have been so rewarding!
In addition to having an opportunity to spend time around a great leader like Steve, I was also very interested in getting a sense of Wimber’s influence in the U.K., as much of my academic work has been on Wimber and Vineyard related subjects.
I’m so thankful that I had this opportunity! I’m thankful that Steve was willing to invite me and that some of my friends and family and people in the church I serve were willing to allow me the opportunity! Because so many of you have been praying for me and have been asking me for updates, I figured I could give you a run down on all that I’ve been able to experience. This is just a summary of things we have done, people we have met, and places we have gone.
London, Sweet London
Steve and I arrived in London around 9am in the morning. We intended to spend the day, at least 12 hours, staying awake so that we could get into the flow of being ahead of our local times by six hours. After quickly going through security, we made our way to the train, known as the Tube in London, and headed into London proper. Our first stop? Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the surrounding governmental buildings.
Big Ben was swell and the governmental buildings beautiful, but Westminster Abbey was amazing. I was able to see the resting place for the bodies of many famous people, including kings, as well as two of my favorites: the missionary David Livingstone and William Wilberforce. The entire abbey is amazing and the sense of history pretty amazing. Many people have been crowned king and queen there and the spiritual heritage of such a place quite overwhelming to take in for someone from the U.S., where “old” is a relative term.
After Westminster Abbey, we made our way up one of the main streets and had lunch at one of the most important establishments in England: the Pub. I had fish and chips, which were amazing, and a stout beer that was beautiful. Tears may have been shed at the sight and taste of that beer.
From there, we made our way to Buckingham Palace so that I could have some tea with the queen but apparently she got her calendar wrong and we had to reschedule. Silly Elizabeth the second! She’s always forgetting her schedule. No worries though… we’ll catch up later.
As we waited to catch a train to Leicester (pronounced “Lester”), Steve and I met for coffee with the hippest most coolest and brilliant Vicar (Anglican pastor), Jon March. Jon did an internship at Steve’s church back in the day, so it was a great chance for them to catch up. After the coffee, we took the train up to Leicester, checked into our hotel, ate dinner, and then crashed into a deep and wonderful sleep.
New Wine: Fingerprints of Wimber
After awaking from hibernation, we enjoyed a nice British breakfast… which was essentially the same thing I eat back home (eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns). We then went to spend some time with some great people from New Wine, a group of churches from a variety of denominations (mostly Anglican) committed to renewal, though the group of church leaders included people leading baptist churches, New Frontiers, and a few other independent churches.
In order to summarize what we did over this first weekend, let me back up and tell you a bit about Steve Nicholson. We really should refer to him as the Steve Nicholson because the use of a definite article is only appropriate for a man of reputation and quality, which likely says a lot about the quality of person that his wonderful wife Cindy is. Behind Steve’s back, I’m almost inclined to call him “The Nick” as an ode to “The Molt” (Jurgen Moltmann, my favorite theologian).
Steve has been coming to the U.K. since the mid-80’s, back when Wimber was visiting England and doing conferences on the Holy Spirit, the kingdom, “doing the stuff,” and all things related to renewal. I’ve literally met dozens of leaders who have said things like the following:
“Twenty years ago I heard Steve give a brilliant talk about __________; it changed my life.”
“Fifteen years ago, Steve spoke at our church and our son was healed after we applied his teaching.”
“Our church followed his advice and grew a lot because we did __________.”
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Steve has had a tremendous impact on leaders and churches here. That’s been a really beautiful thing to see. He and Cindy’s commitment to invest their time, energy, and money into the U.K. has been helpful to so many!
With this in mind, you have to understand that loads of people show up to hear Steve talk. And loads of people have been helped by his advice. And loads of people from New Wine showed up to hear him talk about how churches can become more effective at winning people to the kingdom and how churches can better function at a structural level. He also provided great advice on how to navigate conflicts, how to address cultural challenges, and so much more. I learned a lot on this topic and also had a lot of my own experiences confirmed. It was great.
In addition to speaking to church leaders connected to New Wine, Steve also was one of the main speaker at #Invest, a conference similar to the Vineyard’s Cause Conference. Geared toward younger leaders and future leaders, #Invest was a great gathering for young people to worship, learn, and connect.
As an aside, I should mention that one of the reasons I was interested in visiting the U.K. with Steve was because I was very curious about the influence of John Wimber. If you’ve read much about Wimber’s ministry and how the Vineyard came to the U.K., you’ll know he spent a decent amount of time here in the 80’s. My time with New Wine confirmed that Wimber’s influence and legacy were and are far greater than many of us in the U.S. realize. His fingerprints are all over New Wine. This isn’t to suggest that New Wine doesn’t have distinctions or that there aren’t ecclesiological (and sacramental) points that the Vineyard could certainly learn from (there, I said it!), but New Wine has been marked by Wimber’s kingdom theology and praxis. Virtually all of the books I saw in their book store, written from New Wine authors, contained elements of what I’d call “Wimberisms.”
I loved New Wine. I loved the beautiful buildings that encompassed such a beautiful picture of “ancient future” spirituality. I loved how the incorporated elements of historic liturgy and more contemporary approaches to worship practices. These folks were, by and large, family and their values appeared to be my values.
Some Brits and two Americans walk into a pub…
Thus far into the trip, we had traveled from London to Leicester, Leicester to Daventry, Daventry to Woodford Wells (northeast London), and Woodford Wells to Ealing (west London). In Ealing we were picked up by this Vineyard church planter named Michael Newport. Mike and his lovely wife Flic planted three years ago in the city of Bath, the Bath & Avon Vineyard Church.
The Newports are doing great stuff in Bath. Steve and I spent a few days with them and their leaders, also managing to drink a lot of coffee and eat some great food at the pub we stayed at. Truth be told, I also drank a couple of good dark beers too. The Bath Vineyard has evidently grown rather quickly (300+ in only 3 years), so they are facing a lot of the fun challenges with that! I’m certain they will do great and hope to keep a good relationship with them. But they have a great team there (shouts to James and Cat and everyone else!).
From Bath, we headed to Bury St. Edmunds to hang with the West Suffolk Vineyard Church, planted by Maggie and Chris Parsons and now led by Louise and Mark Williams. Our time with the church leaders included Steve and I talking about “Why Lead?” and then having a full day with the West Suffolk Vineyard leaders as well as a bunch of other Vineyard leaders. That was possibly one of my favorite parts of the trip because Steve and I got to talk about a gazillion different subjects, including a really fun discussion about theology. I was able to mildly nerd out and Steve proved he is quite the capable Jedi Knight theologian (just ask him about Israel some time!!!). In addition to spending time with all of these great Vineyard folks, we stayed at the associate pastors’ wonderful house. Phil & Debbie Wilcox were amazing. Great hosts, great food, great fellowship. I will miss them dearly and look forward to seeing them again!
I had the pleasure of speaking at the West Suffolk’s UTX (students) too. The kids didn’t kill me and I got some nibbles (snacks), so all went well. Jack, the youth leader, is awesome too. I wish I could have spent more time connecting with him!
“Just leave me in Cambridge…”
Steve and I were then able to head into Cambridge, where we met with Lauren Fern. Lauren is planting an amazing Vineyard church in the beautiful city of Cambridge. She interned at Steve’s church here in the States and will do a great job. After we all drank an enormous amount of coffee, we walked into town to meet up with the Parsons, who after turning over the West Suffolk church to the Williams, work on the Vineyard UK national team. We ate a great meal and then I had my mind blown away.
Two words: King’s College.
As we were walking around Cambridge, which is one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to, Steve asked me why I was taking pictures of all of the buildings. I said, “Well… these buildings are incredible!” His reply was priceless: “That’s a waste. Wait until you see King’s College.”
He was right. King’s College almost brought tears to my eyes. The entire city of Cambridge is amazing, but King’s College was wowzers. Mind blowing. It beckoned me to enter and do a PhD and never leave. I had to fight strong powers, no doubt.
Before I jumped on my next train, Chris brought me to a secret antique book store and I almost bought a bible printed in 1550… and held a copy of Augustine’s commentaries on the Psalms that was from the late 1300’s. Again, I had to fight strong powers. But the thought of telling my wife that I had spent around $500+ on another book scared me away from it.
I regret that now. I should have bought it. Ha ha!
Cambridge, I will be back to visit you.
Vale of Aylesbury Vineyard
If your church has the words “vale” and “Aylesbury” in it, you are one of the coolest people in the world. Enter two of the coolest people in the world: Lynn and Steve Burnhope, pastors of the Vale of Aylesbury Vineyard Church. I’ve known Steve for a number of years now, as we’ve both spent time at the Society of Vineyard Scholars’ annual meetings together and have had fun talking about Scripture and theology on a number of occasions. Truth be told, I really, really, really like Steve. And last year I had the pleasure of meeting his wife Lynn. Meeting Lynn basically confirmed to me that Steve is a genius because, well, he talked her into marrying him. That’s proof he is a genius level thinker. Lynn, by the way, is a brilliant theologian in her own right!
Steve took a huge risk and asked me to preach at his great church, so I spoke on “The Mission of the Spirit,” one of my favorite topics (that link will go to the video, where you’ll see me stomp and holler). I was totally and completely blown away by what I experienced at the Aylesbury Vineyard. Here’s what stood out:
(1) Steve and Lynn aren’t just great theologians, they are great pastors! All that I saw was evidence that they are doing an excellent job there! I was so honored to learn from them!
(2) Their church is extremely welcoming and sensitive to people. Everything was done with intentionality and their culture of “welcome” was powerful.
(3) They are an extremely multi-ethnic congregation! This was surprising to me because I just picture a church that has the words “vale” and “Aylesbury” as being “white British,” but I was totally and completely wrong. This is one of the most multi-ethnic Vineyard churches I’ve seen. It was beautiful.
(4) The Holy Spirit is actively engaging the hearts and minds of people. The response to our “ministry time” was really great. I love watching the Spirit working in people’s lives!
Following the Sunday worship gathering, we ate some incredible food at an Italian restaurant and then headed back to the Burnhope’s beautiful home… were we drank some more coffee and talked about theology (surprise, surprise).
That evening their pastoral team gathered and we talked about some great stuff for their church and then they prayed for me. The prayer was so great as I received a number of prophetic words, including one that was especially relevant to my life. I was very thankful for their prayers! The people I met from the Aylesbury Vineyard were great… I can’t wait to see them again in the future!
The next morning we woke up, went into town for a few hours, and then jumped in the car to head to Nottingham’s Trent Vineyard.
The Vineyard UK National Leader’s Conference
When I arrived at Trent, I was brought to the “speaker’s lounge” where Steve was hanging out before dinner. This was especially memorable because there was (1) a huge bowl of ice and (2) an unlimited number of Coke’s. #GameOn (I was really craving a Coke with ice).
I met a few cool people, including the Mark Crosby, and enjoyed about thirty minutes to relax on a couch. By this time in the trip, Steve and I were starting to drag a little bit. And I was beginning to see visions of my wife and kids every time I closed my eyes… which made me want to keep my eyes shut.
In walked the Wrights, the National Directors of the UK Vineyards. Guess what? They are normal human beings, totally not pretentious, and very friendly. Since Steve is a legend in the UK, we had dinner with the Wrights, the Mumfords, Andy Smith (such a cool guy), and bunch of other speakers for the conference. I don’t know… I was pretty focused on the chicken… and unlimited glasses of Coke with ice.
Everyone was friendly, normal, humble, and everything you’d want to experience around Vineyard leaders. It just confirmed to me that I’m in the right movement.
After dinner, we went into the opening session and had awesome seats. Being friends with the Steve Nicholson has some pretty huge benefits: unlimited glasses of Coke with ice, great food, great people, and seats close enough to feel the air from the kick drum.
Andy Smith’s talk (here) was awesome (no surprise). I really like Andy. I had the pleasure of hanging with him at Jay Pathak’s house last November and I decided then and there that those two dudes are a huge blessing to the Vineyard. They have what I call a “prophetic edge” about all that they say and do and being around them makes me desire more of the kingdom. Those are the kind of people you want to be around, right?
Anyway, I digress.
The next day was filled with more great music, great talks, great discussions, and so much more. My heart and brain are both very, very full.
Reflecting leads me to gratitude…
There are sooooooo many things that I learned on this trip. And I experienced God’s presence in many moments. I have so much to be thankful for.
First, I’m thankful that Steve invited me. When I asked my wife what she thought about whether or not I should go, mostly because we have five kids(!), she said, “That sounds like a great opportunity!” It sure was. What a privilege to travel with such an amazing leader. I’m sure Steve found many of my non-stop questions silly, but he literally answered every single one of them and I feel like I’m a billion times smarter about church stuff now, be it church planting, church growth, leadership, or preaching. Thanks, Steve, for taking me with you! It was so fun traveling with you and teaching with you was really fun too!
Second, I’m thankful I met so many great people over there! Steve told me he wanted me to connect with other younger leaders, and I can say “mission accomplished!” Whether they are New Wine or Vineyard, I’ve got some great friendships going! I can’t wait to go back!
Third, I had the honor and pleasure of praying for a ton of people and seeing God do some great things! We saw people encouraged, challenged, freed from oppression, directed, empowered, and so much more!
Well I’m exhausted. I have one more flight from Chicago to Minneapolis and then a two hour drive until I see my incredible wife and our five amazing children. I’m going to give them a billion hugs and kisses and then, tomorrow, we’re going to eat some of the sweets I purchased for them. And, according to my wife, I’ll probably sleep all day.
I don’t know. I think I’ll probably wake up pretty early because not only is my heart currently on “UK time,” my body is too!
You can check out some pictures here.