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AGMF – a Christian tribal event

Superchick bassist/vocalist Matt Dally in full flight at AGMF 2007

There’s something tribal about worshipping with a few thousand other Christians on the pivot-point of the Church calendar.

If ever you have wondered how hymns of praise sound when around 10 000 people belt them out, the Resurrection Sunday evening service in Toowoomba is not to be missed! The congregation sang, “How great is our God,”, as the Bible Society combined churches service closed the Australian Gospel Music Festival for 2007.

Nine years since its humble beginning in the Garden City’s Queens Park, AGMF is still about the music and tent camping in the CBD, and more. The headline acts came from New Zealand, the United States and South Africa, backed by dozens of quality national and local musicians. From ear splitting Day of Fire and chart topping Super Chick, to the jazz of Scat and the didgeridoo of Adrian Ross, all tastes were catered for.

With The Lads unable to arrange appropriate visas at the last minute, local heroes Soulframe stepped into the breach with lead singer Mutto showing there was life after Australian Idol.

On Easter Sunday morning dozens of local churches enjoyed the musical ministry of the visiting bands helping to lead worship around Toowoomba.

Yet there was more than good times and entertainment this year.

The Cross Alone – From the first hymns of worship in the Good Friday church service, the Australian Gospel Music Festival took a harder edge in its ninth year.

The festival has become a significant national event in terms of music, culture and economics, with around 30 000 attendees injecting millions into Toowoomba’s economy. While AGMF is a key avenue for promoting Australian independent musicians, and a very profitable venue for some, the festival’s currency is still beyond the not-so-mighty dollar.

Reverend Ian Shelton warned the Friday congregation against worshipping a good time, slick worship, mega churches and denominational pride. Calling the young families and teenagers to take up the cross, Rev Shelton quoted Paul’s message to the Corinthians regarding God’s eternal wisdom in Christ crucified.

Biker and Reverend Doctor, John Smith may have been reading ‘WWJD’ wrist bands when he asked, “Who would Jesus bomb?” The God Squad founder expressed his anger at a generation that has largely succumbed to a comfortable western Christianity and does not even raise its voice against war and violence.

He asked why the Church has bought into the gross materialism of Australia in the 21st century.

“When I started youth work, old people got depressed. Then it was the mid-life crisis. Then people in their thirties. Then it became the highest suicide rate was among young men in their twenties. Now we have primary school age and kindergarten kids going to therapists every week because of depression! A good stock exchange will not save the human soul. When are we going to wake up? That is why I am committed to the teaching of Jesus, who said ‘what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his soul?’ ”

Applied Faith – The challenge to action was reflected in new initiatives for 2007. In the Scripture Union Café, the Australian Christian Lobby hosted a series of political forums. A former prostitute asked listeners to consider the real impact of selling sex, legally or otherwise. One of the 43 West Papuans now living in Melbourne under a protection visa told about life under the Indonesian military. Opposing members of parliament shared what it is to apply Christian faith within their political parties.

In a federal election year, ACL Chief of Staff David Yates admitted the Lobby was walking a tightrope.

“We’ve got to be a voice for values, speaking in a balanced, measured way, presenting a mainstream Christian perspective. We feel both major parties are responding in a positive way to that, and that can only add to the influence of Christian voices when it comes to the federal election.”

Church Unity – AGMF organisers remain committed to the witness of an effective, unified Christian church through the festival. Chief Executive Officer Isaac Moody began his work as a volunteer with the festival nine years ago.

“The things a community chooses to celebrate are an indication of its spiritual health.” He said.

The unity within Toowoomba’s Christian community has become a powerful witness to the many organisations involved in the mammoth event. Local and state government, police and logistics contractors all commented on the sense of one Church. Organisers have deliberately positioned the festival as a vehicle to promote denominational cooperation, even down to the release of this year’s compilation of original worship songs on a CD. The tracks on ‘The Cross Alone’ CD point directly to the central point of Christian faith: Christ’s death and resurrection.

Read Journey’s report on the 2006 AGMF HERE.

Read about SCAT performing at The Fancy Pants Ball HERE.

Photo : Superchick bassist/vocalist Matt Dally in full flight at AGMF 2007