This week I went to my sixth Soul Survivor. I picked my friend up at 6:50am and we began our 115 mile journey up to Peterborough, arriving in good timing at 9:10! The roads were kind to us! We wanted to make the most of being at Soul Survivor, as we were only there for the day, so once we picked up our wristbands, we headed to a seminar titled ‘Overcoming Failure and Disappointment’. Throughout the rest of the day, we went to two other seminars; ‘Holy Disruption’ which was about looking after the planet, and ‘Life According to Love Island’, which was about sex and relationships. We ate yummy food from the Food Stalls, got rained on a couple of times, bought Soul Survivor merchandise, caught up with friends we saw along the way, and went to the Big Top for worship and the main talks.
In the evening main meeting, I began typing on my notes. My friend asked me if I’m writing a blog post, and I replied, “maybe, I just can’t get the words out”. She asked what I had so far, and I read out “old songs, new songs, big top, same God”. I had something stirring in my mind that I wanted to get down, it just took me a while to figure out what that was. Eventually, between getting up on our feet to do the Macarena with ten thousand others - much to my friend’s dismay - and loudly singing along to ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber, I got there.
A lot has changed since the first time I went, when I was just 13. To start with, we’re in a different part of the country, in a different Big Top, surrounded by different people, singing different worship songs. ‘Freedom Generation’ and ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’ have been replaced by ‘Raise a Hallelujah’ and ‘What a Beautiful Name’.
When I first arrived at Soul Survivor, and for many times after, I was so lost. I was in so much pain, really struggling with my mental health. I don’t know how many times my Youth Minister had me crying on her through ministry time! Through those painful times in The Big Top, I’ve met God. The most memorable time was when Justin Welby, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury was on stage and he said, “there are some young people in here tonight that need to know that they are precious. That is your name”. I’m sure this spoke to many people there that night, but for me, the significance lies in that my youth minister had just written and drawn the exact same thing in my journal not a few seconds before he said it. “He calls you precious, that is your name”.
Over the years, I’ve made close friends, and laughed so much with them that it hurt. One year, me and six other girls my age shared a tent. We decided it would be more fun if we didn’t use the pods provided, because we’d be closer, even though the youth leaders warned us we’d be cold. We were very cold, but we couldn’t have youth leaders being right, so we slept close together under our fairy lights from home, freezing cold, for four nights. We laughed until the youth leaders got tired of telling us to be quiet (and maybe for a little bit after that), we sang “last request” at midnight (I don’t know why…), we cried together, and came up with so many inside jokes that I don’t really fully understand to this day.
One year, my first year as a leader, I cooked for 18 people! Never again! I applaud anyone who caters at Soul Survivor. I’m not sure there was one night that I didn’t forget to add a main ingredient, or planned the timings well. Thank you Jesus for supportive and encouraging colleagues and line managers!
I look back at all the memories - too many to share in one blog post - and I see a theme running throughout: God’s faithfulness.
So much has changed about Soul Survivor. Throughout the months between each festival, I’ve changed too. The first time I went, I was just about to go into Year 9. The final year I went, I’m doing my dream job, about to go into second year of university! I still struggle, but unlike the first time I visited Soul Survivor, I have a cheerleading team around me that know, and that help me rise again. The things I grappled with at thirteen are the things I’m still working through now. Friendship circles, interests, and where I live have changed! So much has changed, but God hasn’t. Through the highs and lows of Soul Survivor and everything in between, He is the same. Yesterday, today and forever. He was there every time I cried until my eyes felt like sandpaper. He was there every time I jumped and danced with joy. He was there as I was led and discipled, and as I led and discipled other youth people. He was there when I broke my toe (another story for another day), when my friends and I sung and giggled in a tent, when we ate, when we served, when we worshipped, and for the few hours per night that we were quiet and slept. When I stood in the Big Top for the final time on Monday, I worshipped the same God as when I first stood in the Big Top in Shepton Mallet all those years ago. Different songs, different place, same God.
"the only thing that has really changed since 2016 is our eyesight"