I fell down an interesting YouTube rabbit hole recently, that of reviews of bad holiday parks. The guy who made the film below has been to some truly awful places, so you don’t have to, one of which is Pontins at Camber Sands…
You’ll see that he’s there on a Sunday, appropriately enough. The whole place starts to look comically awful in a truly post-apocalyptic, “Every Day Is Like Sunday” sort of a way, with some common themes developing with his other videos (discarded furniture, weeds, deserted closed facilities, stuff falling apart). Interestingly enough, I’ve been here, and it did look pretty similar way back in 1993, although not as grotty, if I remember right. The place clearly hasn’t had much spent on it since!
So…yes…I was there getting on for thirty years ago, but not for a holiday. It was part of my previously-mentioned year out, where I got inadvertently suckered into providing free labour for a particularly unpleasant network of ultra-charismatic churches. Said free labour extended to staffing “Breaking The Mould”, a Christian conference at the holiday park. It was a slightly more niche (and extreme) version of events like “Spring Harvest” and “Word Alive”, which carry on to this day. Basically Christians colonise a holiday park for a few days, and enjoy the leisure facilities, while getting manipulated and misled by preaching and worship sessions. Great, eh?!? Well, back then, I thought it was. I’ve only recently realised that these things are weird, isolated hothouses of intensity that tend to skew your grip on reality.
I don’t remember that much about the conference, and I’m going to have to rely on memory as there’s virtually nothing about it online – it obviously happened before the web came along to record literally everything that happens. If you google “Breaking the Mould Camber Sands”, the top result is a Tripadvisor review entitled “fridge seal broken with mould”, not quite the image they were going for! It mostly passed in a busy blur. I was involved in helping to make sure the talks in various locations were recorded, and in those days that involved carting tapes and recorders around. At times it was quite stressful, as stuff wasn’t where it was supposed to be, or didn’t work properly, and like most things back then, I considered it all to LITERALLY BE A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH!!!! because, you know, God. What if someone didn’t hear his message because it wasn’t taped properly, and then got to spend an eternity in Hell?
That, I’m afraid, is a genuine thought process. That responsibility weighs heavily on the shoulders of a young charismatic evangelical.
A particular highlight of an event like this was evening worship sessions, and I do remember bits of those. Worship was led by a couple of people famous on the charismatic scene back then, Noel Richards and Sue Rinaldi. They were the Christian equivalent of rock stars back then, and early 90s charismatic worship was big on electric guitars, sax, synths and a triumphalistic, upbeat tone, full of words like “victory” and “power”. I get bit of a trauma reaction hearing this stuff these days. It doesn’t make me feel safe any more. It’s interesting that in a lot of places the language has mellowed and toned down a bit recently. The worship at this conference was, I think it’s fair to say, of its time. There was also considerable mick-taking of more traditional forms of Christian expression, which made me a bit uncomfortable, as it always seemed like quite cruel humour.
Some of the worship was recorded and released as an album, so the conference was immortalised on CD and cassette (also of its time, haha).
I owned it on CD for a while, although it’s gone the same way as the rest of my CD collection. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, you can listen to it online, although I’m going to make you look for it. It’s quite weird to think that nineteen-year-old me was bopping in the crowd, getting swept along by the hype of it all. You’re treated to the following songs:
1 We Want To See Jesus Lifted High
2 Jesus Forgive Me
3 The Crucible For Silver
4 Lord You Have My Heart
5 Behold The Lord
6 Prophetic Song
7 Thunder In The Skies
8 Praying For The Winds To Change
9 O Lord Hear My Prayer
10 Prophetic Songs
11 Great Is The Darkness
Charismatic worship is really heavy on creating a mood and sense of unity and passion, and I think this is largely where all the “signs and wonders” come from. I think the “miraculous healings” and “words of knowledge” and “slayings in the spirit” are all just a form of group hysteria. This music is really instrumental in hyping up the crowd and getting them receptive to whatever message the speaker wants to convey. It’s really manipulative, especially because it’s given the authority of GOD ACTUALLY SPEAKING RIGHT NOW. You’ll notice the album contains “prophetic songs”. These are essentially a couple of bits of improv, but are made out to be the booming voice of God talking directly to you. It’s hard to be rational and argue with that when you’re surrounded by people getting ecstatically excited about it all. The last track is a particularly awful earnest and schmaltzy puke-fest of the GOD WILL SOLVE EVERYTHING variety.
Another thing this conference awoke in me (he says ironically) was insomnia. It’s the earliest memory I ever have of being badly afflicted by long sleepless nights and the tiredness that comes with it. Looking back on it now, it’s almost certainly because I was very stressed by my workload and all the hype surrounding the conference, and because I couldn’t switch off in the evenings. The people I spoke to about it, of course, had a different opinion, it was obviously BECAUSE DEMONS, and therefore I needed it prayed out of me. I got a lot of prayer for it that week, but lo and behold, here I am 30 years later, still struggling with the issue. Oh, well…bloody demons.
It wasn’t all bad, really. I still recall a couple of things fondly. Despite my opinion now that everything said and done at the conference was patent nonsense and actually quite dangerous, there was an “esprit de corps” and a sense of community and achievement and purpose that felt pretty good. I remember managing to get to the pool with a bunch of friends, and having a lot of fun, as famous children’s worship leader Ishmael swam past and splashed us playfully. That’s a random image that’s stuck in my head firmly ever since. Interestingly enough, Ishmael seems to have left the charismatic scene for a much more traditional expression of Christianity. I wonder what the story behind that is?
It’s funny seeing the holiday park look roughly the same all these years later, but substantially grottier, and largely devoid of people. I suppose I’m like that – I look roughly the same, but have fallen apart a bit since. 🙂 This place was a stage on the journey, but it didn’t lead quite where I was expecting. That’s probably a good thing.