On Fire is a small Christian Conference held at High Leigh during the week. It attracts around 160 people from a wide range of backgrounds and ages, although its timing and history mean that there are a large number of people over 45, and fewer people of working and child rearing age.
What is unique about On Fire Mission is that it is "a network dedicated to promoting Charismatic renewal blended with the riches of Catholic spirituality." In short it is Anglo-Catholic and Charismatic (and inclusive in terms of orders.) You may wonder why On Fire hasn't adopted Bishop Paul Bayes strap line of (Anglican) Charismatic Catholic and Missional, but On Fire as a movement and conference attracts people from a wider range of backgrounds.
And it is a movement that is changing. This is my second year at On Fire, and this year the worship had a more modern feel. There were still some older chorus' and songs, but the worship team had made an effort to use newer songs from the last 10 years. Charismatic Catholic worship works when there is a natural flow between songs, spoken liturgy, prayer time and opportunity for spiritual gifts and ministry. And this On Fire does exceptionally well.
The theme this year was Blessed and Broken, with Charles Whitehead (Roman Catholic Charismatic) and Russ Parker (Acorn Healing Trust) speaking. However the changes in the worship programme were perhaps more important than the (excellent) speakers.
I had the opportunity to lead morning prayer in a way that respected the structure of the office,but also allowed space for all to pray, whereas in the past formal and informal morning prayer sessions had been separate. My morning prayer reflections were based on the lectionary readings. On Tuesday the role of Mary in the coming of Christ and Holy Spirit. On Wednesday the closeness of God in the wilderness and the opening of eyes. On Thursday the intimacy of the Body and us all being a part of Christ. Unplanned and unintended these themes came out in talks and ministry on each day.
On Wednesday afternoon a remarkable Eucharist in the round was offered, put together by Fr. Mund and presided at by some of the 'younger' Priests. Then on Wednesday evening Mthr. Bev Mason led us in a service of reconciliation at which Russ preached. The atmosphere at the conference changed from that point towards reconciliation, peace and inner healing. I spent Thursday in a bit of daze, missing all of Russ's sessions (discs to come - On Fire doesn't offer downloads of talks yet!) and Exposition and Benediction in the afternoon. Thursday night Bishop Paul Bayes presided at the Eucharist and spoke and the spiritual atmosphere changed again. Charismatics speak of a heaviness, or weight, or in more Catholic terms there was the same presence that you may find at a holy shrine or place.
This year there was somewhat less body ministry in terms of words or pictures, but prayer ministry was central. If you are used to loud enthusiastic prayers given for individuals On Fire can be a bit of a shock. People are prayed for calmly and quietly. Some people do fall, weep, or respond in other very human ways, but no fuss is made. This year also saw the statue of Mary moved from a corner to the side, due to a large cross needing to be moved as it was blocking one projection screen. Although unintentional this resulted in some free devotion. In Charismatic Catholic theology Mary is recognised as the Holy Spirit's spouse, so filled with God that when she greeted Elizabeth she too was filled with Holy Spirit! This had been my reflection at Morning Prayer on the first day, and I too found myself journeying with Mary into a deeper encounter with the Spirit.
I was also blessed to have Charles and Russ both pray for me. Charles because I hope I too can continue to cross denominational boundaries as he does. And Russ, because I had no idea what it was about his words and ministry that left me sleeping through most of Thursday, but I wanted to be certain I was not offended. These opportunities are not always available at larger conferences.
The conference ended as it always did with commissioning and anointing with oil. Although the ministry in the conference had been more inward, On Fire never forgets that it is a Mission, and the Holy Spirit is given for the whole world, not just experiences of God at High Leigh.
When much of the Charismatic movement is dominated by ministries under 45, with far too many vanishing from church leadership towards 50, On Fire values the Dreamers of Dreams. Some do struggle with a new middle aged generation being part of the conference. I did my best to mix and I know I upset one person by live tweeting a sermon, whilst others could not believe I was old enough to be ordained (I turn 40 next year!). Yet on the last day someone stood and spoke prophetically about how encouraging it was to see more middle aged and young people at the conference, and encouraged us to keep tweeting.
On Fire is a deeply refreshing place that I commend - next year the conference is from 20th-23rd of April and a new website with details of other events will be at http://www.onfiremission.org.uk/ soon.
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