A Christian youth festival happening this weekend has been hailed as vital for helping cultivate the next generation of church leaders.
Summer Madness began welcoming in young people from around 4pm on Friday, with at least 1,700 expected for the five-day camping experience aimed at in Glenarm, east Antrim.
The gathering is aimed largely at teenagers and starts with music and worship sessions at 7pm.
It runs from Friday through to Tuesday, with hundreds upon hundreds attending – often coming sizable distances to make it.
One of those helping to lead the praise session is Stephen Mayes, 26, and from Willowfield Church of Ireland in east Belfast.
Between around 20 and 30 are attending from his church, he estimates.
Asked about the effect the festival has, he said: “10 years from now, if we don’t have this massive group of people on fire for the Lord, we’ll go into decline.
“The people here are the future leaders of the church.”
Alongside him today, just as final preparations were being made for the festival, was Shauna Williamson from Co Sligo, around 150 miles away.
A volunteer with the Anglican church, she had brought no fewer than 93 along.
“We’re out in the west of Ireland,” said Mrs Williams, originally from Coleraine.
“The churches these kids come from, if there’s two or three young people in it, then that would be it. They are very traditional”.
But when it comes to Summer Madness, she said it is unique in the whole island.
“It just feels alive to them – and to the grown-ups too” she added.
“It brings it home to them that God is for now and God is real to them.
“Young people are kind of designed to kick against tradition”.
This is its 27th year in existence, and among those listed on the bill for the event are popular local acts the Emerald Armada, and Sons of Caliber.
This weekend’s festivities follow from a new event called Catalyst.
That was staged a week before at the same location, and was aimed at a slightly older audience; for those in their 20s and 30s.
It was the first time the event had been held, and it was hailed as a “fantastic weekend,” drawing attendees from across the island of Ireland.
This was Catalyst’s debut year, but organisers said that they were hopeful they can grow the present capacity of about 500 to well over 1,000 – and perhaps beyond – in years to come.
. Tickets are still available to camp at Summer Madness, and for day visits.
The camping tickets are £95, and the day tickets £15.
To purchase them, or find out more, go to: www.summermadness.co.uk
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