Dearest Black Countryites,
I trust that this very special edition of Netnews finds you well.
I have had the incredible privilege, among others, of serving The Body of Christ in The Black Country in some kind of “corporate” manner for 20 years this year, or thereabouts. I have sought to re-collect the very first time we gathered a group of Youth Leaders in Eve Lane Church in Upper Gornal with a very simple desire to grasp something new in terms of who we were TOGETHER, having observed a rigid individualism between congregations as I had grown up, though there were some exceptions, and united events such as “Reclamation Roadshow” had been running for many years in Dudley Town Hall.
We thank God for these, and for the work of men like David Raybould (Kingswinford, though he had a real heart for Dudley as a borough) who saw something coming from the future where Jesus was calling His Church to get ready for a move of His Spirit that would not be contained within our traditional mindsets, structures or congregations.
We became aware of a group of ladies who had met to pray for years and years and years (women like Val Thomas and Janet Billingsley et al) who have faithfully sewn their hearts and lives into praying that “something would shift” in terms of The Kingdom of God being manifest in our region, and in our lifetime. The only clear picture The Lord gave these beautiful warriors was that of “an ox”, so you can imagine their responses some years later when they heard us share with them the “the teams of oxen” prophetic word (which can heard on the web-site at the very start of the NET vision DvD) which many of you are now very well aware of.
We also observe and recognize many of the other signs of things to come in the four boroughs, such as;
Wolverhampton– coming out of the Billy Graham crusades, WEF led for many years by one of the fathers in our region, Barry Law, and now the leaders’ gatherings led and facilitated by Tony Wastall;
Walsall– a fortnightly gathering of many leaders led by another father of our area, John Price, one of the church planters/pioneers we honour, and served into by one of the many unsung heroes of The Church, Steve Kirk, with others (as is always the case);
Dudley– Adrian Lowe, Paul Chamberlain and Leon Evans (and others) have in some way picked up the banner from David Raybould as they have more recently sought to gather congregational leaders from this historic borough (that was once expected to be the capital of this nation!), and there is a growing recognition that Kingdom Leadership is in many ways wider than the role of a congregational Minister/Pastor, eg, and many are now exploring ways to expand their theology and practice, and we sincerely thank God for this.
Sandwell– I remember clearly standing with my dear friend Jon Grant in West Bromwich Town Hall (in June 2004 at the “Dominion” gatherings we had called) and seeing it almost packed with Sandwell-ites, and realizing that something very significant was being birthed at that time as there was very little congregational (BODY) co-ordination across this very dis-advantaged borough up until that point, as far as we were aware. Since then, we have stood back and watched as The Lord has begun to build His Church in His Nazareth, where little is maybe expected, but much will no doubt be revealed. Things are coming together there…..;
We honour our established & emerging Fathers (and Mothers), and the MANY unsung heroes and heroines who we may well never ever hear of, this side of Glory, and we thank God our Heavenly Father who holds us ALL together, across boroughs, across denominations, and even across time & generations.
AND now, we look to see what the future holds, and who will become our fathers and mothers in THIS generation, and I pray we can release them to be ALL that Christ would have them be, as we allow them to lead us forward and show us what The Father is now doing, and what He is saying, both locally and regionally. It is CRITICAL that we now recognize and release those that Jesus HIMSELF has called to leadership, not only in our local churches, but also in the borough and maybe regional spaces that our congregations will find their feet and health within. PLEASE HEAR THIS GUYS!
If anything, please understand that whilst it is great that our congregations grow and find health, it is equally crucial that we see growth and seek God together as A BODY, and I hope you’ll see the significance of these two tracks coming together below. What use is there us in protecting or even expanding our space in the wall of The City (THINK Nehemiah!), if the walls themselves are broken down. We either stand together to see these rebuilt completely, or we stand alone for a season, and then what?
Psalm 127:1 – “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain”.
We also rely on Him to teach us how we can serve into our nation. More on this below too.
Well, going back to the start of these ramblings, my recollections are very simply this…………the genesis of this particular MOVE was around 20 years ago.
Some of us are very “time conscious”. Some of you guys reading this will remember very clearly some historic events or moments. Probably THE most significant event that people recall and talk about in the last 50 years was the shooting of JKF. The classic question often asked is this, “Can you remember where you were when you heard the news that JFK was dead?”.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was fatally shot while traveling with his wife Jacqueline, Texas governor John Connally, and the latter’s wife, Nellie, in a Presidential motorcade.
For those younger readers, many will remember where you were on 31 August 1997, when Diana, Princess of Wales died as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, France.
Well, here is my question to you in the context of our Black Country;
“Where were you on 5th October, 2001, ten whole years ago TODAY?”
I am pretty confident that 99.9% of you will have no recollection of the relevance of this date as yet, but here are a few facts about this particular date in history;
On 5th October, these things happened (in these years)
· 610 – Coronation of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius
· 869 – The Fourth Council of Constantinople is convened to decide about what to do about Patriarch Photius of Constantinople.
· 1582 – Because of the implementation of the Gregorian calendar this day does not exist in this year in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
· 1793 – French Revolution: Christianity is disestablished in France.
· 1905 – Wilbur Wright pilots Wright Flyer III in a flight of 24 miles in 39 minutes, a world record that stood until 1908..
· 1914 – World War I: first aerial combat resulting in a kill.
· 1944 – Suffrage is extended to women in France.
· 1947 – The first televised White House address is given by U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
· 1962 – Dr. No, the first in the James Bond film series, is released.
· 1969 – The first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus airs on BBC.
· 1974 – Guildford pub bombings: bombs planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) kill four British soldiers and one civilian.
People born of this day;
- 1703 – Jonathan Edwards, American minister (d. 1758)
- 1712 – Francesco Guardi, Italian painter (d. 1793)
- 1919 – Donald Pleasence, English actor (d. 1995)
- 1922 – Jock Stein, Scottish footballer and manager (d. 1985)
- 1945 – Brian Connolly, Scottish singer (Sweet) (d. 1997)
- 1947 – Brian Johnson, English singer (AC/DC)
- 1950 – Eddie Clarke, English guitarist (Motörhead)
- 1951 – Bob Geldof, Irish singer (The Boomtown Rats) and activist
- 1962 – Caron Keating, British television personality (d. 2004)
- 1975 – Kate Winslet, English actress
Don’t you just love WIKIPAEDIA!
Anyway, where were you on 5th October 2001? Do you believe in chronological significance? 10 years ago today.
I am not really a person who looks back that often, and I don’t really think those who know me would see me as someone who commemorates particular dates, yet THIS DAY has been on my mind for months. Strange eh!
October 5th, 2001, was probably one of THE most significant dates in The Church’s history in our region, maybe ever! We have no historical records to consult, but I am quite confident that we have probably never seen so many Christians from so many different congregations or traditions COME TOGETHER with no other agenda other than to seek the face of God. There have been some big events over the years, and some great speakers and leaders have visited our region over many generations, but have you ever heard of 3000 local Christians coming out on a Friday night, with no big names, simply TO PRAY?? Through the night?
Guys, it had never happened before, and it MAY never happen again. But it happened, and it happened in YOUR generation, and I wonder why?
Let me briefly tell you the story behind “WATCHMEN”;
– 5 of us met in July 2000 (in a normal monthly team get-together) and dreamt of gathering a group of people together to pray through the night for the future of The Kingdom in our area. We agreed to meet and send out a few invitations through our growing network for a 10pm-6am gathering at Calvary Church, Kingswinford in September 2000, hoping we would draw out a good number of those who were desperate enough to see something shift, maybe 50-60;
– Around 250 people came, and most there will remember the “raw-ness” of this night, and how exciting it was for many to do something they had never done before,ie, stay up all night, to pray! We thought we’d do it again, and decided to go for a larger “civic” space, ie, DUDLEY TOWN HALL, in the following February;
– We decided to do another 10pm-6am session, which was very interesting to the Town Hall management (!), and we really hoped that we might get maybe 500+ people out, from across the 4 boroughs, and we reckon we were drawing on around 100 congregations at this point;
– We saw people arriving early and queuing to get into a prayer-meeting, an eye-opener to those of us who were realizing that a HUNGER FOR GOD was somehow being revealed. By 10pm, the curator of the building was asking me if he could close the doors and why we hadn’t sold tickets (to make his job easier I suspect)? I was quietly VERY excited, as the downstairs was absolutely rammed (750), and by 11pm, the place was full to the doors (1100+), and I will never forget the feeling of standing at the back of the hall watching so many people worship & pray, and I think I realized that something very significant was taking place, though we had no maps or language to help us set any context then;
– After Watchmen II, we faced a real dilemna, as “where do you do go?” after a night like this. Very often in situations like this, people think that providing some kind of leadership is easy as there is a clear momentum being built, but believe me, it was not. A few of us met to pray and ask The Lord what He wanted us to do, and we had no clear WORD, yet we sensed we should press on somehow, so Watchmen III was planned for June 2001, back at Dudley Town Hall due it’s “relative centrality” or ease of access to the 4 boroughs (we still have a lack of quality venues for larger events);
– A major learning curve was unfolding for us all, and especially for lil’ ol’ me, as I had ploughed a huge amount of energy and time into travelling around churches, some Sunday’s standing in front of 6-7 congregations, urging them to come and join in with the developing prayer movement in The Black Country. One Sunday morning, due to the relationships developed between churches and leaders in pre-ceding years, I remember being able to “pop in” to Calvary, Amblecote, Chawn Hill and Zion CC, all between 10-11.45am, and this was a great help in casting vision and heart to encourage people to come out to pray/gather. But I think we “took our foot off the gas” somehow after WII, and along with other factors, this became evident;
– In June 2001, rather than see the momentum build (in terms of numbers), we saw around 750 people turnout for WIII, and whilst the night itself was another powerful experience for many people there, there was a question now being asked about how we move forward. What a wonderful place to be though eh….being concerned that “only 750” people turned out for the prayer meeting!
– I can remember talking to various people about whether we had run our course or not, and there had to be some serious heart-searching going on that summer for many of us, ten years ago. At that point, “us” comprised of a team of trustees/church leaders, and a group of friends who had come together to serve into “The Net”, something we had started together in 1991(ish) which was simply an un-named relational network/people movement that became a registered/official Charity to be called “The Net” in 1997.
– Yet, in my own heart, there was still track to cover, and a feeling that we had not yet pressed into ALL that God had in store for “US” corporately as a regional Church with a very specific God-given mandate to bring transformation into our region, and then our nation. This was VERY strong;
– In the summer of 2001, I remember specifically being in a meeting with 6-7 younger leaders who mostly felt we should “finish on a high”, and the fact that we had dropped in numbers was maybe a sign. But I can clearly recall something deep-down inside of me saying “NO!”, but not in a rebellious or arrogant way at all (which I must confess I do sometimes!), but more a simple conviction that we should press on….but where, and how??
– Someone told me about a new “convention centre” tucked away somewhere in West Bromwich that was utterly amazing, so I decided to go an take a look with Paul Chamberlain (our Charity Chairman at that point), and as we both walked into that huge auditorium, we looked at each-other in a way that words are NOT required!
-Something leapt in my heart, and I remember saying to myself, “This was built to the glory of God, and if we could fill this place with local Christians who want to seek the face of God, what better way to fill it! At that moment, I was SOLD! But we had to convince a number of others who had to underwrite the costs which were substantial at the time, as well as the task of growing our prayer-movement from 750 to 3000!!
– The rest is history to some degree, and that was the runway to Bethel Convention Centre – Friday 5th October, 2001. TEN YEARS AGO TODAY!
Let me just add this though guys. Most people would think that seeing (almost) 3000 local Christians come out like this was great, and it was! But for those of you who think these type of things are easy, or those who are a little afraid to step out at time when they hear from God (or have a deep impulse to want to serve or please Him to some degree), please know that we were at times afraid, nervous and lacking in faith over the whole thing.
I can tell you that NOT knowing how many people are going to turn out for an event (which grew into a process) like these, especially when you’ve spent a lot of money on a huge auditorium is scary..make no mistake about it!
We ran a Civic Reception upstairs from 8-9pm before the actual prayer gathering (starting at 9pm) which drew both Civic & Church leaders from across the 4 boroughs, including MP’s, Chief Execs, MEP’s, Mayors, Councilors and leaders in local Police, Fire and Ambulances services. When we were due to lead the party downstairs, I ran down to see how many people had arrived (at 9pm) and was utterly horrified to see no more than 200-300 people there in their seats. My heart sank if I am really honest and I was very tempted to think we had “got it wrong”, but returned upstairs with these words ringing in my ears, “We can only be obedient!!”.
We delayed the move downstairs as one of the lovely stewards advised me that there were massive queues on the roads outside, and no-one really knew why. We later found out that the queues were called by local Christians trying to get to a prayer meeting. Thousands of them! We also later heard that families were abandoning their cars on the side of the roads to get in to the building as the car park was just not big enough to cope with the crowds.
Probably one of THE most amazing things I have ever seen in all my life was the scene I saw when I came down with the Civic Reception party, and as they turned right to enter the main auditorium, I turned left and walked towards the exit in the foyer (itself larger than 95% of church buildings in The Black Country!).
Tears began to fill my eyes as I saw hundreds of people of all ages RUNNING to get into the prayer meeting! I shall never forget that scene as long as I live, and it is a living testimony that our dreams can become reality if we simply believe, and obey. Wow!
Watchmen IV was a memorable evening in many ways. We started at around 9.15pm with a one hour prayer service including our Civic Reception, and by the end of this, there were close to 3,000 people in the building (even though we only had a small number at the start!). I reckon we were then drawing on around 250 congregations from across the four boroughs, as well as some friends from Birmingham, and other parts. We heard many months later that “we” had inspired other towns and regions to pray in new and different ways, and we know that loads of local churches also saw their/your prayer meetings change.
Some believe that “we” were part of something that has changed the spiritual atmosphere over our region, and others that we turned a tide that we still do not quite grasp, but will do one day. Some maybe think these were “good times”, and nothing more.
For me, I think we were part of a move of God that somehow captured the hearts and minds of Black Country Christian people, who, especially after 9:11 (September 11th, 2001) just 3-4 weeks before, were seeking God for answers and assurance in a deeper way than ever before. When God decides to move, and His Body is ready to hear, who knows what can happen! He does.
It was also maybe a glimpse of what THE BODY OF CHRIST can look like “corporately” when we stand together. Can you imagine what 30,000 of us might look like??
There were some tremendous obstacles we had to overcome to visualize the 3,000, but Oh Boy it was worth it……………may we be ready to step up should THE CALL come to us again, but I for one would love to see the 30,000 gather one day, and we have a few stadiums now that could accommodate us, but as we’ve already been to West Brom, there is only one left!!
Thanks for allowing me to share this with you guys, and I hope you will see why I have done it. It is sometimes good to look back, take stock, thank God and place a marker in the ground. It is good to remember, as long as the memories inspire us into seeing the future in a different way. We have no “natural desire” to organize big meetings for meetings sake, but if the seasons turn again, and it seems right to call our large numbers, we will.
Until then, we will continue to plough on in what God IS saying to us for our region, in the ways we already are, most often working “foundationally” behind the more obvious scenes, and “in the wings”, as they say. We no longer make the distinctions between what God asks us to do more invisibly with the times we are seen to be active, as with the Watchmen season. BOTH are vital. Obedience is everything.
We press on guys, and we pray that you will too, being obedient to all He asks.
–please make your own comments about your memories on WATCHMEN (we’d love to hear your stories/testimonies/thoughts)
Click here to make your comments on WATCHMEN.
–please place your prayers on here now for October 2011, and beyond;
We really want to start finding ways to gather people again in prayer guys, and with all of the technology now available to us, we can start by gathering “virtually” maybe. Many of you use Facebook/Twitter/etc, and we have some BLOGS available now that you can use, so why not start today and start another WATCHMEN process, where a few people build momentum into something very significant.
What will October 5th, 2011 be remembered for?
I would love “us” to connect more, and I am sure Father would love us to pray more together, and more effectively. Please come on-line now just for a few minutes and place your comments and prayers………and let’s see where this goes??
God bless you all,
On behalf of YOUR NETwork of Black Country Christians
Here are some reflections. Leave your own here
“The Watchmen events were without doubt of great significance in tapping into a hunger and faith in God’s people for an advance of the kingdom of God in the Black Country. The October 2001 event was the culmination of this. We should reflect with hope and confidence for the future that the Holy Spirit will continue to stir us and we will continue to respond with passion and zeal to every opportunity he presents.”
TONY WASTALL (Wolverhampton NET)
“Watchman ? will long stay in my memory as one of the ‘best’ Christian events I have ever attended. We truly obeyed Paul’s injunction to Timothy to ‘pray for those in authority’ but we went the extra mile and invited them join with us! To have so many political, community, sector and civic leaders with us as we commended them for their work and committed them to the Lord in prayer was, in the best sense of the word, awesome! I don’t think we can accurately assess the good that was done on that evening. It was local churches coming together under the banner of the Kingdom of God and doing damage to the Kingdom of darkness!”
JOHN PRICE (Walsall Leaders)
“How do you get over 3000 people to a prayer meeting? Watchman was a response to the work of the Holy Spirit in the church of the Back Country, to see over 3000 people gather to pray for our region was just amazing and a great inspiration and I believe this has prepared the way for the many ways the Lord is revealing Himself in our region today’”.
Adrian Lowe (Dudley Leaders)
” I remember coming to the first Watchman Night of Prayer held at the Bethel centre. I had been used to prayer gatherings of all sorts but was amazed to see over 2,500 people drawn and gathered for what was to be a memorable time; small still by world standards but very significant in Britain. Ages ranged from the quite elderly to the very young but to see so many young, teenage people in the place of prayer was truly inspiring. In addition, the cross-section of churches was amazingly broad and the presence of leaders from all different streams together with one agenda – to seek God, calling upon His gracious mercy and interceding for the Black Country and the wider world.
It wasn’t the expertise of the prayers nor the theology expressed during the night that caught my attention but the hunger for God tangibly beating in the hearts of the people; one could almost feel the Presence of God brooding and breathing over the assembly as He orchestrated something in the heavenly realms that was inevitably going to have serious and far-reaching repercussions in the Black Country and beyond. It was a defining moment! Something was breaking open over our heads!
I went away from that time convinced something had shifted in the spiritual realm which was later developed and pushed forward by further nights of prayer at the Bethel centre, each of which brought fresh aspects of His purpose and kingdom into play. It would be easy to go away from such events and then, after a time, wonder in the cold light of day what it was all about; but God doesn’t forget the prayers of His people but the answers to those prayers often creep in later without a fanfare – it is by faith we pray to a Father we believe hears us and acts in our behalf for the sake of His Son, His glory and His kingdom.
In one sense I was an observer from Birmingham but in that gathering it felt there were no observers only participants. Since that time I have watched and at times been part of a developing momentum that is greater than any one church or leader but is drawing both churches and leaders together for a divine purpose which prophetically has been declared over the Black Country from various sources over a number of years; that God has purposed from this heartland of the nation to impact the wider UK and also the nations. I fervently believe that this often hidden momentum was significantly released during and from these nights of prayer but has yet to reach its fruition.
Reflecting now ten years later on what was clearly birthed at that time, maybe this is a significant moment to consider afresh that the fulfilment of these same purposes in and through the Black Country requires a continued and ongoing urgency in prayer; what began in prayer also needs nurturing and sustaining in prayer. I wonder whether this is a time for an awakened conviction that the call to seek God together in the place of prayer is a pressing need; it is not only pleasing to the Lord when we come to Him in this way but is significantly central to further empowerings of the Holy Spirit which alone can carry His purposes in the Black Country to maturity; there is much more yet to break out upon and through His Body in this heart of the nation.”
(our great friend and Journeyman from our neighbours, Birmingham, and someone who has been in the UK Prayer movement for 24 years, including “Prayer for Revival” / “World Prayer Centre” for 15 years).
The 10th anniversary of the first Bethel Watchmen which included the Civic Reception was probably one of the first prayer events I had ever been too, and was also one of the very first NET events I had attended. Having the event in Sandwell was amazing and was a great catalyst for future Sandwell wide prayer gatherings and Global day of prayer events. To see all of the ‘great and the good’ from Sandwell local authority and the other boroughs in attendance was I believe incredibly significant. I know for a large amount of Sandwell local authority representatives and our Major it was a powerful, visual statement that the Church is alive, vibrant and was responding to local and worldwide issues.
In Sandwell we do not have many numerically large congregations; seeing the Bethel Convention Centre so full of Christians from across the Black Country on that evening was an incredible encouragement to the Church of Sandwell that gave out and still gives out the great message – Together we are stronger!
Jon Grant (Sandwell Net)