Martin and I attended the Greenbelt Festival held at in the beautiful grounds of Boughton House near Kettering on the August bank holiday weekend. Greenbelt is an annual festival of arts, faith and justice that has been going since 1974. The theme this year was “The Common Good” and was attended by about 11,000 people.
There are twelve to fifteen different venues on the site, with lots of choices about what to attend, so every-one will come away having learned and enjoyed different things. It is impossible to go to everything, and often Martin and I go to different events.
One of the events where large numbers attend together is the Communion service on Sunday morning which takes place in the Big Top. This year the service was looking at including those with disabilities. This was not only in its content, but in who was leading. The first reading from Ephesians 3:14-21 was led by live link by a lady who suffers from ME/CFS and therefore cannot attend the festival. The homily was given by 15 year-old Becky, who has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy and who can’t talk unaided. She used a communication aid that she controls with her eyes. She talked about God loving her as she is and mentioned Daniel 7:9. “… an Ancient One took his throne: … his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire.” The Gospel was told to one another using pictures, and we shared the peace using sign language.
Another of the highlights for us was the 9 Beats Collective. They led 7 different services over the weekend, each based on one of the Beatitudes. This 9 Beats Collective is a group of international musicians and producers exploring the beatitudes though music, words and symbols. They talked about the rhythm of life and music, following Christian themes such as Justice, Compassion, Radical love and Mercy using the body to symbolise each, from hands outstretched for arrest or clasped in a heart shape and held up like a lens to see others. They also performed music at a concert on Saturday evening.
A much more traditional approach was taken by St Martin’s in the Field. Four of their singers sang two short concerts entitled Great Sacred Music, and they also led a service one evening. Whilst their curate Alastair McKay demonstrated their new course “Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story” which is a free resource to explore the Christian faith using paintings from the National Gallery.
Martin enjoyed Dr Halapua Archbishop of the pacific region of Polynesia and New Zealand (USPG venue), who spoke using the language of Tonga (Moana - Ocean and Pura - Love), sharing a platform with Natalie Bennet former leader of the Green Party, about climate change and the encouragement of the young to seek solutions as they have done in his province to see the world as “one”.
I went to a session led by Clive Stafford-Smith from Reprieve as he engaged the audience in thinking about government torture and assassination, and when, if ever, it is OK.
The 2 woman Sh!t Theatre company tore into vagaries of the housing market with their exciting and funny show Letters to Windsor House (not palace but decaying council block amid addicts, homeless, and high rise luxury developments), speculating on the lives of the previous tenants from their un-redirected mail.
Martin watched Jewish blogger Robert Cohen giving a masterful exposition of the background to the Balfour Declaration before joining a panel with Israeli and Palestinian activists to talk about the prospects for a meaningful solution in the Holy Land.
There were presentations of music, stories, dance and Muslim worship in the Amal venue exploring diversity in culture and faith, fostering common understanding between Christians and Muslims then and now, with dance from Asia (Kathak) and contemporary music.
Katharine Welby-Roberts, daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed about her personal struggle with depression, bravely using the platform of her famous parent to speak openly and be an advocate for better understanding.
Jack Monroe spoke movingly too in the Big Top, sharing her experiences as a single mother in benefits and then in the public spotlight.
There are comics, plays and poetry, talks on literature and ideas, children and youth activities, a host of different bands, acts, artists and speakers. Christian Aid hosts speakers and has a café, USPG, Embrace the Middle East, and others are key sponsors, and the Church Times organises the bookshop.
No one person’s Greenbelt is like anyone else’s, some go for the music and not the talks or the worship, in any combination, plus there are mouth-watering food stalls and cake!