For those of you who were unable to be in attendance, or are simply curious to know what we got up to, here’s a breviloquent review of the recent Portsmouth Christian Union Weekend Away to Brighton.
Patrick and I arrived several hours before the rest of the group. We were welcomed to our home for the Weekend, Holland Road Baptist Church, by a friendly Church Manager [Sean]. He showed us the ropes, threw a few health and safety guidelines our way and got us very excited about the prospect of boiling hot water on tap. Tour over, it was time to set about making last-minute preparations for what promised to be a very exhausting but also very exciting weekend. We still had a couple of hours to burn before folk started arriving, so Patrick and I [hand-in-hand] decided to venture out into the uncharted depths of Hove.
We set off in the vague direction of the County Cricket Ground, hoping to find a place for us all to stand and watch their Saturday night fireworks display without having to pay the £10 entrance fee. A fifteen minute loop around the stadium was sufficient exercise to find a chink in the Cricket Ground’s armour. Between a block of flats and a row of houses, a view of the playing field was afforded to us. It would, we reasoned, have to suffice. We made the short walk back to Holland Road and settled down on sofas for a game of chess. For the record, I won.
James and Nick arrived about an hour later in James’s car, and promptly absconded in search of the local supermarket. Their brief: purchase enough sustenance to feed 30 hungry mouths for two days. I was rubbing my hands with glee in anticipation of Nick’s culinary delights. He is quite the cook. Anyway, the main group [having missed their initial train] arrived a little later than expected so we greeted one another with a brotherly kiss [or not], dumped our bags and headed straight to the meeting hall. After the initial welcome, I invited our speaker for the Weekend – Gareth Leaney, from UCCF – to come up and bring us the first of his three messages from the book of Jonah. Gareth was a blessing to us throughout the Weekend, and I think we unanimously agreed that his teaching was both challenging and refreshing.
We wrapped things up with a time of prayer, and spent the rest of the evening playing games and getting to know one another a little better. I hit the sack early [1am] in anticipation of a long day ahead.
As foreseen, Saturday was indeed a busy day. The Committee and I were up at 7.30am to pray and run through the plans for the day. Breakfast was followed by our second meeting, in which we looked at Jonah 2.
“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”
I used the 90 minutes before lunch to rush into the town centre, purchase additional underwear [I was a pair short for the Weekend!] and pick up a couple of other bits and bobs. After lunch the more industrious members of the group got their heads down and set about working on various bits of Uni work. The majority of us meandered down to Brighton seafront – not a patch on Portsmouth, but worth a visit nonetheless. It was at this stage of the proceedings that pop music’s latest sensation, the aptly named “Wrong Direction“, were subjected to their first official band shoot. I’m utterly convinced that there’s a Wrong Direction-shaped gap in the music industry…
5pm signalled the beginning of our final meeting of the Weekend. Gareth talked to us about Jonah 3 & 4, and we were able to enjoy a healthy time of discussion. We were challenged to share our thoughts on how we could individually and collectively aid the effectiveness of the Christian Union in its mission to share Jesus’ name with the rest of our University.
“Let everyone call urgently on God.”
We thanked Gareth for the sacrifice of his time [and his sanity], and bade him farewell. I am still debating whether his questionable decision to wear a pink cardigan around Brighton for the day was extremely bold or extremely foolish. Gareth was adamant that it was red, but I daresay that some of the Brighton residents may have thought otherwise.
One of the disappointments of the weekend was that there were no major injuries. Ben Putt, the chap I worked for at Gaines Christian Youth Centre, used to run camps with the view that “if no-one ends up in hospital, it’s a poor weekend.” Whilst I am sure that Ben was joking [and so am I], I fully empathise with what he’s saying. Far too often do we wrap ourselves and those for whom we are responsible in cotton wool, when really there’s a lot of fun to be had in flying by the seat of our pants. I was placing my hope of an injury in two things: the evening Fireworks display, and the ensuing quiz that I’d prepared.
We arrived at our viewpoint about 30 minutes before the fireworks were due to kick off. As anticipated, the crowds were starting to gather [due to this being the only location from where the fireworks could be properly seen for free]. We passed the time by singing songs, recounting endless tales of firework displays bygone and debating the legality of lighting sparklers in a public place. To be honest, the display itself was ridiculously long. I’m not sure if the Cricket Club felt some sort of obligation to make their fireworks last as long as their sport, but when they eventually came to some sort of halt after 45 minutes we promptly decided that we didn’t want to find out. They might, I thought, just be stopping for tea.
If they were stopping for tea, I’m confident that it can’t have been better than what we ate. There is something profoundly gratifying about having 30 portions of Fish and Chips delivered to your doorstep, especially when they’re obtained at a significantly cut price. Nothing can quite beat the gratification of their consumption, though. When we were all fed and watered, we turned our attention to the evening’s final event. The quiz turned out to be a deeply intellectual affair. Whilst Paxman’s job is probably safe, I’m optimistic that a CU quiz team would give Portsmouth’s University Challenge team a good run for their money. The only bitter pill was that the person from Wimbledon wasn’t able to identify Court Number One of the All England Tennis Club. The team called “In Wilson We Trust” pulled off a fine victory. No surprises there.
As is natural and proper, bedtime was followed by breakfast time – bacon and sausages, courtesy of Nick and a couple of others. I decided that an hour would be needed to tidy and clean the place up, with the aim being that we’d be out of the church by 9am. 8:45, and the last speck of dust settled in the hoover bag. Lavatories were sparkling, carpets were spotless and bags were neatly [!] stacked downstairs. The church service started at 10:30, so we trooped off to the nearest Starbucks and lounged about on their sofas with an array of fancy drinks at our fingers. I don’t think the coffee shop staff knew quite what had hit them, but it was probably one of their more profitable Sunday mornings for a while.
“I really enjoyed the church service, but would have liked to be slightly more awake” – Catherine Orr. In hindsight, probably a fair review of how the rest of the morning went, and one that I can definitely associate with. I should probably clarify that our state of fatigue was not a reflection of the quality of Holland Road’s service – it was actually right up my street! I’d seen 3am as being a reasonable time to retire on Saturday night, so credit must go to Marla-Joy for constantly pointing things out that kept me both awake and amused. I’d like to reiterate my thanks to Holland Road for accommodating us – it really was an ideal venue.
We rounded off the Weekend in fine fashion – a full Sunday Roast, followed by a short time of prayer and thanksgiving. Feeling that time had flown by far too quickly, and wishing that we had a longer period of time to spend together, we left the Church and caught the train home. Actually, that should read “we caught the train, the bus and then another train home” because Southern Rail, in their infinite wisdom, decided that Sunday afternoon would be the ideal time to perform repairs on the line. When it comes to use of public transport, I’m about as useful as a deep fat fryer in an ice cream factory, so it was definitely thanks to God that we were able to make it back to Portsmouth without any disasters or delays. In fact, we had the added bonus of occupying the whole top story of the double-decker bus, so [being good Christians] we decided it was the ideal opportunity to break out in choruses from “Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat.” I’m not sure what the other passengers made of the whole ordeal, but we found it to be rather amusing and passed it off as evangelism.
I’d like to extend particular gratitude to the rest of the CU Committee for putting in so much time and effort, and helping things to run so smoothly. I’d also like to offer my thanks to Nick and James who were instrumental in making the kitchen work so efficiently, Andy for running the Powerpoint, Hannah for being a willing driver and everyone else who in some way contributed towards making the Weekend such an enjoyable time. Harriet also demands thanks for constantly nagging me to finish this post.
Praise the Lord for his goodness and his mercies that he poured out on us, and for drawing us all closer together as a CU.