New Wine Sweden Leadership Conference – March 2024

The factory, which had been producing pressed steel since the beginning of the 20th-Century, was a place of noise and heat, where huge machines dwarfed the workers who moved constantly around them.

One day, some years before the end of the century, a visitor arrived, asking to come in and look around. Although not finely dressed or spoken, there was something about him: the doors were opened and he was allowed in. He wandered throughout the vast space, pausing in one corner. “One day,” he said, “a cross will hang here.” Pausing again in the centre of the floor space, he added, “And a baptism pool here …” No one seems to remember the man leaving: they simply became aware that he was no longer there.

The factory closed almost 100 years after it opened, and in 2000, was bought by some Christians with a big vision for reaching their community for Christ. For two years, they worked to clear the building to enable its renovation to begin. At the Opening Celebration some years later, one of the former factory workers turned up. He’d been present during the strange visit many years before, and wanted to see two particular parts of the new church. Having seen the large cross which hangs in the far corner of the building, to the right of what is now the worship stage; and the baptistry in the large Reception area, he told the church leaders the story I’ve recounted above – a story of which they had been completely unaware when they planned and laid out their new church. What an encouraging testimony of the Lord going ahead of those who had the vision for what was to come.

And it was to kungsportskyrkan – or Kings Gate Church – in Huskvarna, on the shores of Sweden’s second largest lake, that Rich and I travelled for this year’s New Wine Sweden Leadership Conference.

We were warmly welcomed by the leaders of New Wine Sweden and the Pastor of kungsportskyrkan – and so encouraged by the evident warmth and regard they have for New Wine UK and the early pioneers such as Bruce Collins and others who brought our distinctive focus on Word and Spirit to their churches.

Their hospitality was so generous, and we were inducted into the great Swedish tradition of fika – which essentially translates as tea or coffee break, but with the Swedish twist of added pastries or something else sweet or sticky. One of the essential differences we discerned between England and Sweden is that, whereas we take a break from our work for coffee, they take a break from fika for their work.

We were blessed with some beautiful sung worship, accompanied by a glorious ministry of flags – huge pieces of light fabric fixed to thin, flexible poles: I’m hoping to find where they’re made and order some for Christ Church! This is the second such trip I’ve made, having attended the Leadership Conference in Finland with Paul Harcourt before the Pandemic. I find it humbling and moving to worship alongside brothers and sisters singing God’s praises in another language: every so often, a familiar tune begins and you start to pick up words which occur again and again – Lamb, glory, praise and so on.

But it’s the similarities which truly strike home. In whatever language it’s read or proclaimed, God’s Word is living and active, reshaping hearts, minds and lives, bringing health and hope. What St Paul calls the same Spirit brings the ministry only he can to the needs and brokenness both of his people and of those who come seeking truth and meaning. It’s humbling to be part of a ministry time in another language, witnessing the same signs and manifestations of the Spirit’s presence as we see here in the UK.

I returned energised, inspired and encouraged, with another foretaste of the world to come, a reminder that I will one day stand in that great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Paul Langham is Vicar of Christ Church Clifton and a member of the National Leadership Team