The 38th Greenbelt Festival took place over the August Bank Holiday weekend. If you’re used to the structure of Spring Harvest or New Wine, Greenbelt’s mild randomness may be a bit of a shock. For me, that’s one of the main attractions. It’s held at Cheltenham racecourse, using a mix of temporary and permanent buildings and most festival goers camp in and around the racecourse. The loos, it must be said, were amazing, and worthy of mention for their cleanliness!
This was about the tenth Greenbelt I’ve been to. I’ve been as a young child with my parents, as a teenager with church then as a student when I worked running the sound desk for the second music stage. Most of my recent GB attendance has involved contributing in some way; this year was no different. I helped run social media surgeries – giving advice on blogging, Twitter and Facebook. I was part of a panel discussion with Bex Lewis from the Big Bible project and Simon Jenkins from Ship of Fools – we considered what church might look like if there was wholesale adoption of online communication.
One of the better innovations in recent years has been the beer tent. It’s called the Jesus Arms and this year was serving a rather nice range of Bath Ales’ beer, including one created especially for the festival and named Jonah and the Ale. I won’t pretend I didn’t spend a fair amount of time chatting to new and old friends here; meeting face to face with around 20 people that I have only talked with via Twitter over the course of the weekend. One thing missing was ‘Beer and Hymns’ which only ran in an unofficial capacity this year.
Another favourite venue of mine, the top of the racecourse grandstand, is created as a quiet area ‘Soul Space.’ Here there are prayer stations, places just to sit and be and look, people on hand to listen (and hand out tissues). Morning and Evening prayer are said here too, led by various organisations and catering for all – including the Goth Eucharist- I went to two different Morning Prayers, but missed the evensong/ night prayers (see above re: Jesus Arms).
I laughed my socks off at Adrian Plass; I missed Milton Jones’ comedy because I was engrossed in a conversation in the Jesus Arms. I heard comedian Mark Thomas talk about his Extreme Rambling – walking the wall around Palestine. I learned a lot about the Israel/ Palestine conflict; I also caught myself laughing at jokes about tear gas, which was an odd experience. My weekend was so busy that it wasn’t until Monday that I got to choose a specific talk and I went for a session on Ignatian spirituality and the benefits of silent retreats. I like the idea, perhaps when I have a 57-week year I’ll have the time…
Despite it being a music festival I only heard one actual set and that was on the recommendation of a fellow social media volunteer – it was a band from Leeds called Hope & Social that I assume everyone else has heard of…
Sunday morning Communion is something of an experience. Several thousand people gather together and share bread and wine. It’s all a tiny bit chaotic, but lovely; it always makes me wonder if this is what the crowds were like following Jesus. Sure something important is happening, but not quite sure what!
Greenbelt has a lot to recommend it. Speakers from different denominations, different traditions, cultures and viewpoints. Music from well known artists and a chance for the unsigned and youthful to play to an audience. A chance to try new styles of worship. Charities highlight their causes and parachurch organisations share their resources. Dance, theatre, cinema and visual arts to enjoy. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you want to be challenged in your thinking, worshipping and experience of ‘church,’ it’s definitely one to try.