One of our speakers at the first two Downs Bible Weeks in 1979 and 1980 was Bryn Jones, visionary and apostolic leader of Harvestime, later to become Covenant Ministries International (CMI). He had pioneered much through the ’70s and had taken a lot of ‘flack’ for his stance on the baptism of the Spirit, teaching about the five-fold ministries of Ephesians 4 being relevant for today, and so on. To some extent we were caught up in his slipstream.
During Downs 80 Bryn told Terry how he had been observing his ministry and was concerned on two fronts: first that he was in danger of ‘burning out’ and second that he needed complementary gifting around him to share the burden of ministry. He advised him to follow what he himself had recently done; he had formed an apostolic team. (It is worth mentioning that ‘apostolic’ would have been expressed in a whisper in those days. It was a very emotive term as people made the accusation that anyone with apostolic gifting was making themselves out to be like the apostle Paul!)
A Team is born
Through August that year Terry prayed about this concept. (I have come to learn over many years that Terry does not make decisions until he has clearly heard from God. What security that has brought me.) He then wrote letters to six of us to invite us to join him in team relationship.
And so it was that in September 1980 a team of seven men met in Terry’s home (L to R: David Holden, Richard Haydon-Knowell, Henry Tyler, Ray Lowe, Alan Vincent, Terry Virgo, Nigel Ring). Terry had recently moved within the county of Sussex from Seaford to Hove to help another burgeoning group of believers to plant a church, the Brighton and Hove Christian Fellowship. That team had friendship contact with about 20 churches at that stage and all the other members, apart from myself, were leading churches in the south east of England (I was leading a research team in the National Health Service as a professional engineer).
We took the name Coastlands from Isaiah 41 which in some translations uses this term to refer to the ends of the earth. However, this name was misinterpreted by many, Brighton being on the south coast of England, and we changed the name to New Frontiers, being more descriptive of our vision. Later this become New Frontiers International (NFI) and then, following the closure of the Stoneleigh Bible Week in 2001, Newfrontiers.
Friends – not ‘professionals’
My friendship with Terry has been such a joy. God knit our hearts together many years ago and I am delighted that it continues to this day. I think our friendship spoke to others as well. In July 2002 Christianity+Renewal Magazine published an article called Double Act in which they graciously wrote warmly about our relationship, and some other ‘duos’. To be called to work together in this way has been a privilege.
That comes to the end of my personal ‘take’ on the start of Newfrontiers. Maybe one day I will take the story further but other snap shots of history do exist in books by Terry Virgo, such as No well-worn Paths. There is also a summary on the Newfrontiers website. But, with the expansion and diversity of the Newfrontiers family that God has graciously allowed no single history would be possible.
Something was happening across the nation. The ‘charismatic movement’, which rooted back to the early sixties in the UK, was now gathering momentum and house churches were springing up in many places. Through the seventies a new phenomenon was taking place in the UK, summer Bible Weeks. The Keswick Convention had, of course, been blessing people for many decades but now something fresh was happening in the charismatic wing of the church.
This new phenomenon drew hundreds of people to gather with tents and caravans on some large tract of land – an agricultural showground or a racecourse perhaps – and meet daily in marquees for a week’s teaching. Personally, we attended the Capel Bible Week (successor to the Abinger Convention), on the land of the Elim Bible College, from 1974-76. Then the Dales Bible Week, hosted by Bryn Jones, was launched in Harrogate, a northern market town, and hundreds started travelling there from the south of England.
Downs Bible Week
A few weeks before we set out for Harrogate in 1978 we felt God tell us that we were to host a similar Bible Week in the south in 1979. He sovereignly revealed that it should be held on Plumpton Racecourse, near Lewes in Sussex. ‘Who would organise it?’, Terry asked. I felt a surge of excitement, as did his church administrator in Seaford, Trevor Brierley. And so Trevor and I went to the Dales Bible Week with notepads in hand to learn as much as we could from their experience.
Terry’s next question related to numbers: ‘how many could we cope with?’ I thought of a number that seemed ridiculously large: ‘one thousand’ I said. In those days that was indeed a large number in charismatic circles. But God had other ideas and when we publicised the Downs Bible Week bookings poured in. We had 2,900 that first year, which had grown to 8,500 by the time we closed it ten years later.
It was at the Dales Bible Week in 1978 that I asked Terry to tell me if he ever felt I should be ‘full time’. I knew a call on my life from the age of 9 and then again at 31; I was now 37. We were in a crowd and he did not appear to have heard. Since I had not really intended to say it (I still do not know why I did) I did not repeat the request. However, in his letter of 1980 in which he invited me to be his administrator he reminded me of that request: ‘Did I still feel that way?’ Since it was still on my heart and was a promise from God I unhesitatingly picked up the phone to say ‘Yes’.
Next time, the final posting in this series, we will see how the first ‘team’ came together.
Change and Growth
Having moved on from our Anglican church we started travelling to Seaford on Sundays to meet with Terry’s church. We continued to meet in our home on Wednesday evenings and became like a railway junction with scores of people coming and going.
Many came to hear Terry’s teaching when he visited on alternate weeks. He would bring a carload with him and they sat together to encourage one another as we traditionalists prayed condemnatory/confessional prayers! (I later learnt that this principle of establishing a ‘hot heart’ to which others can be added was one that Terry wisely used on a number of occasions. Like a bonfire, start praying with a small group to create this ‘hot heart’ and once the ‘prayer culture’ is established others can be added.) We were never sure who or how many would come in any week but the dozen or so that had previously been the norm rapidly rose to twenties, thirties and even forties.
More space needed
We lived in a small house and had recently completed a conversion to give us a larger sitting room. But it was still only 22ft x 9ft so could not accommodate the numbers we were now hosting. We would leave the door open for people to listen from the hall, the kitchen or from sitting on the stairs. Such was the hunger for life in the Spirit in those days that people did not object to these inconveniences.
However, although we had only just finished one phase of building work it was clear that we needed more space and so built an extension. We did not have the money to do so but learnt many lessons of faith, and giving and receiving, through this so that we completed the work debt free. Around the walls were many electric power sockets so that people could plug in their recently acquired cassette tape recorders to capture Terry’s teaching. (We have often reflected since on how the present owners must wonder why there are so many electrical outlets in one room!). There was a tremendous hunger to hear and meditate upon these newly discovered (for us) truths.
But even this extension was not sufficient and others who had been attending started to meet in nearby villages to accommodate the growing numbers. Terry would visit these groups on alternate weeks. This sub-division also made it easier to invite people to a meeting that was more local to their homes.
Travelling the 20+ miles to Seaford to join the Sunday fellowship of believers was not, for us, a viable long-term solution and Terry urged us to start meeting in our home on Sundays. A few came but ‘house churches’ were not yet accepted as bona fide churches in those days.
Then in January ’77 God spoke to us that we should have more profile and meet in a public building on a Sunday. He spoke to us about planting a church, something that to a former Anglican like me was a totally foreign concept. Surely churches, by definition, had to have existed for hundreds of years! So we looked unsuccessfully for a public hall. Then God spoke again in June and this time we approached the same authorities who offered us the recently opened Clair Hall in Haywards Heath.
And so the Mid-Sussex Christian Fellowship (now The Kings Church Mid Sussex) was born on August 21st with 65 adults and children meeting in the Bar Lounge surrounded by securely locked bottles of spirits. But we were there to pursue the true Spirit!
This was the first church that Terry planted and probably marks the beginning of his apostolic ministry – not that such emotive words were used in those days.
The weekend after Terry visited out home and prayed successfully for people to be healed we were to attend a Stewards Trust conference for people at a similar stage of life to ourselves. What a turning point that proved to be. The speaker, Barney Coombs from Sarum Hill Baptist Church in Basingstoke, and founder of the Salt and Light stream of churches, oozed love and a knowledge of the scriptures we had not previously encountered as he ministered on body life, and on the importance of exercising the gifts of the spirit to bless and edify other believers. He also introduced us to scriptures set to music as a vehicle for worship. At that stage our worship experience included singing many of the fine old hymns, and we greatly appreciate them to this day. But something new was happening, particularly with groups like Scripture in Song (David and Dale Garratt) from New Zealand who were writing contemporary music to accompany scripture. Powerful stuff! Our church experience was changing from black and white to colour.
Terry offers to help us
On the Monday after our return Janita phoned Terry on behalf of a friend who was seeking prayer for her baby daughter who had been born with a congenital dislocation of the hip. After expressing a willingness to pray for her Terry asked about our weekend away. Janita told him of the excitement we felt but also of the frustration that we would have to wait another year before we could attend such a conference again. At that point Terry offered to come and help us. “Do you really mean that?” “Yes” was the generous response.
We did not know it at that time but a few weeks previously Alex Buchanan (click for a remarkable video tribute), a man with a proven prophetic record, had preached at Terry’s church. Following revelatory words of knowledge, the accuracy of which only Terry and Wendy could confirm, he prophesied over Terry that he would be used to travel outside the boundaries of Seaford to help other churches.
We now had such a need, so, from the first week in May 1973, Terry started visiting our rather pedestrian Bible study group. He brought us into new life in the Spirit by teaching about worship, the gifts of the Spirit, grace not law etc.
The need to realign
Soon after this it seemed right to leave the local Anglican church we had grown to love. We were clearly now feeding from Terry’s ministry more than from that church. As a boys’ Bible class leader and member of the church council (a democratic decision-making body) I felt continuing as members lacked integrity. So we left as inconspicuously as possible – we later found out not very successfully – and joined Terry’s church in Seaford.
Speaking in tongues
When we first discussed speaking in tongues with our Anglican friends we were advised to steer clear as they could be inspired by the devil. This was to raise an interesting problem for me.
My wife was having difficulty conceiving and was invited to attend a meeting in London led by Jean Darnell. When she went forward for prayer at the end of the meeting Jean said to her that ‘her emotions needed releasing’ and, when prayed for, Janita started speaking in tongues. That represented a problem for me: I now had a wife who some would say was behaving in a way that was ‘from the devil’! Shortly after that she conceived and our first child was born in October 1970. Life was busy and we put the matter of the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the back-burner.
But the issue would not go away in our minds. We were ourselves relatively young Christians and were faced with a significant doctrinal dilemma about which people we respected held very different views. After discussion we reflected that there seemed to be something different about Terry when he had spoken to our group and so I went to spend time with him.
Terry graciously opened up the Scriptures in an authoritative way, a value in him I quickly came to love, and convinced me of the rightness of the doctrine that the Baptism of the Spirit (audio link) is for every generation of believers. But, ever cautious, I did not ask him to pray for me then and was not, in fact, baptised in the Spirit until the following year. But then, a few weeks after being prayed for, I spoke in tongues. So my problems were compounded – I too was thought to be practising the devil’s arts!
Shortly after that Janita queried why we did not see people being healed in the church; the Bible seemed to indicate that this should be part of normal Christianity. Once again we contacted Terry who was becoming our problem solver! He graciously agreed to come up to our home in April 1973 to share what he knew from scripture. It was timely as David Mansell had recently visited his church and there had been some remarkable healings. At the end of the evening Terry told us that he had faith to pray for people with back-ache which, he had observed, often arose from an apparent difference in the lengths of people’s legs. He then prayed for three people, including Janita, and one, in particular, a man of about 6ft 4ins, saw his leg ‘grow’ by about 1½ inches! My eyes were out on stalks! Here, in my own home, was an apparent miracle taking place – mind-blowing.
This was to be the beginning of an understanding in experience of the gifts of the Spirit, as we shall see next time.
Increasingly people are joining churches related to Newfrontiers through other apostolic spheres and have no awareness of how it all started. Several have recently asked me for the early history so over the next few weeks I will share my personal story of those early days since I was privileged to be in from the start – indeed, from before the start.
One day, on return from our family holiday, I found a letter awaiting me. “Will you be my administrator? I don’t know what an administrator does but I know I need one”. I picked up the phone. “I also don’t know what an administrator does” was my reply, “but yes!” On that somewhat precarious basis a special friendship turned into an employed relationship with Terry Virgo. The continuing deep friendship continues to this day.
That communication, through a letter and phone call, took place in 1980, the time at which Terry first invited me and five others to join him as a team that ultimately became the core of Newfrontiers, soon to be defined as a family of churches, but recently redefined as a family of apostolic ministries, that has spread across the globe. But I am jumping ahead. There is much pre-1980 history that is important for the understanding of the roots of Newfrontiers.
Terry Virgo enters our lives
My wife, Janita, and I first met Terry in 1968. He had been saved in the late ‘50s and baptised in the Holy Spirit two years later. We had been married only one year and another newlywed couple, Phil and Agnes Ball, also moved into our village, Scaynes Hill. We soon came to know them and decided to start a home-based Bible study for other believers. They said they knew someone who could be invited to speak at our first meeting from their former church, Holland Road Baptist Church in Hove, on the Sussex coast of the UK. And so it was that Terry Virgo first walked into our lives.
Terry had also been recently married, having met his wife, Wendy, at the London Bible College. Shortly after their wedding they had moved to another coastal town, Seaford, to join a growing group of people who had been meeting in homes but were now building a meeting place for the church to gather.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
In 1969 we ‘stumbled across’ the baptism of the Holy Spirit when we visited some friends as we were returning from holiday; they spoke in tongues as we prayed together before continuing our journey. There was no explanation and we did not ask. Coming from a mainstream Anglican background this confused us; what was it all about? Talking to friends in our church they told us that tongue-speaking was not for the current era. Some even said that it was of the devil! That soon raised big problems for me, as we shall see in the next posting.
From time to time I have published interviews with the various men leading the new apostolic spheres following the transition of the Newfrontiers family of churches in 2011 from one to multiple spheres. Here I talk with Mike Betts who leads the sphere ‘Relational Mission’. We were able to have a discussion about what his vision is and how the sphere has developed since the transition.
Relational Mission – meaning and outworking
Having given insight to the name ‘Relational Mission’ Mike shares some of the ways in which his vision and values are being outworked: a Leadership Conference, Clustering churches for local fellowship, Church Planting, Leadership Training and ‘extraordinary’ Prayer.
Many of the values and practices of Newfrontiers have been updated and redefined in the book ‘Relational Mission – A Way of Life’ which Mike has written to be a manifesto for the next decades.
The last five years
Since the transition took place in 2011 each of the spheres has worked hard to define the way forward. As Mike looks both back and forward he recognises the challenges that this transition has represented but values the lessons learned as those leading these apostolic spheres have grappled with their new responsibilities in advancing the Kingdom. There is a very healthy friendship that has been maintained between them and they are seeking to have regular fellowship and accountability to one another.
Reflecting this change Newfrontiers has now been redefined as
A group of apostolic leaders partnering together on global mission, joined
by common values and beliefs, shared mission and genuine relationships.
The recently launched new website gives a very helpful feel of what this means.
Pathways from Poverty
Both Mike and I have hearts for the poor. In the concluding part of the interview Mike shares his vision to see churches in his care each pursuing initiatives to help those who are poor or in need, particularly through empowerment projects aimed at self-sufficiency under the umbrella of ‘Pathways from Poverty’. One specific application is seen in the partnership with Edward Buria in Kenya who has a significant sphere of churches, Edfri, both in that nation and in other parts of Africa.
The future is bright
I found Mike very positive as he leads his sphere into the future. There is great vision and health which will, I believe, contribute to significant advance of the Kingdom in this generation.
Finally, Mike refers to two books in this interview which you may like to obtain:
‘Relational Mission – A Way of Life’ by himself
‘A call to United Extraordinary Prayer….’ By Jonathan Edwards.
I have not met many alpacas – in fact I had not met any before I met Boris. But he was a good representative of his species and quickly made me feel at home.
I was visiting Pathways Care Farm in Lowestoft, UK, founded by Geoff Stevens. I came to know Geoff when he was exploring an initiative within the Relational Mission sphere of Newfrontiers, Pathways from Poverty, now led by Julia Miller.
Geoff knew nothing about farming when the opportunity arose to start a care farm but he and his team have achieved an astonishing amount in just two years. Walking around the farm with him I found he is bubbling with ideas – ‘we’re going to put a bird watching hide here’, ‘we will create an arts and crafts room there’ – so I look forward with anticipation to a return visit in due course .
What is a care farm?
It has been found that many people who find it difficult to integrate into society for whatever reason are able to relax and find a reason for hope in the open air. Whether walking an alpaca through the fields and woods (which is when I first met Boris), planting vegetables, grooming goats or laying a path to a polytunnel, opportunities abound for acceptance and fulfilment. An alpaca is very non-demanding – just stroke his neck and he is like a kitten!
Pathways Care Farm is at the end of a cul-de-sac through a housing development in Lowestoft. I really thought I must have taken the wrong turning – I had expected to drive across miles of open countryside – when it suddenly appeared in front of me. As such it is well embedded in the local community.
Located on county council owned land part of the farm had previously been sold for development – a major road and many houses. The remaining 13 acres (approximately 5 ha) and buildings had been allowed to lie derelict for many years when Geoff was offered the opportunity to develop it as a care farm. Now, over 15,000 volunteer-hours later, tumbledown buildings are beginning to provide accommodation for a café, an arts and crafts area, a relaxed place for volunteers and service-users to have their lunch, chicken houses and much much more. Some of the building restoration was carried out by a man on probation, a qualified brick-layer, who used to visit as part of his community payback.
Animals abound; many are rare breeds. I met some well-cared for pigs and goats, each with golden brown coats that shone in the sunlight, and chickens that had been reared from eggs. Plans are afoot for a petting farm which will allow more animals to provide the comfort of contact with those who are trying to find their way in life, some with mental health problems, others with dementia or learning difficulties.
Then there are the two polytunnels ably overseen by head gardener Rob who is highly knowledgeable and does not allow his cerebral palsy to hinder his involvement in the horticulture. It was an inspiration to talk to him.
A sensory garden
As you enter through the farm gate you pass a sensory garden; not yet completed but sufficient to see how valuable it will be with its willow branch ‘cave’ and beds of various tactile and fragrant plants.
Despite its short life the Farm is already attracting much favourable attention in the locality, with over one hundred volunteers from local churches and the general population. The local MP and senior local government officials have given their endorsement and ‘seal of approval’ – the High Sheriff very tangibly by donating two pigs!
The farm will never be self-sustaining from the farming produce alone (I am told the vegetables are superb). But the vision is to make it self-sustainable in other ways: through fees which are charged to statutory providers for their ‘clients’; the café which will be open to the public; the charity shop which receives donations from the local population; the sale of produce, and so on.
The future is bright! This surely is a model others could emulate. Well done Geoff, all the volunteers who make the farm run day by day, and the trustees who ensure the charity is compliant with its duty of care and legal requirements. Thank you for your welcome. A truly edifying visit.
In this concluding interview with Andy Cottingham we talk about money.
- What are the possible sources of funds including the pros and cons of gift days in the church and charitable grants?
- How to make a ministry sustainable.
- What about overseas giving? What are the pitfalls and the damage that can be done by unwise giving?
- What is success?
In concluding this series I want to encourage church leadership teams to watch these interviews again together and apply them to your own situation. Andy raises many questions that you may not have thought of. They should stimulate good discussion and help raise the standard of ministry with the Poor in your church.