A new geography and a new set of plans for the summer of 2016 gave opportunity for me to take advantage of the ‘first time leader’ concession ticket for the Greenbelt festival, held in Broughton estate outside Kettering. I have to admit to being slightly uncomfortable at the idea of a justice-focussed event being held on the grounds of the landed-gentry…but life is a paradox!
I’d heard of the festival over the years, of course, but in the distant past had quite literally kept my distance as a reasonably right wing Salvationist. However, my own shift of perspective on some things meant that Greenbelt felt like a bit of a homecoming when I turned up.
I’m not a big live music person as far as bands are concerned (however I did really enjoy the Irish band, The Eskies), so for me it was really all about being ‘Sideshow Bob’ and picking up a lot of the fringe events, talks, experiences, reflections and the like. The first thing I have to praise is the diversity and variety of stuff to get up to.
The totally brilliant thing, though, was people. I met people from so many diverse parts of my own life: Forest Churchers, Shapenote Singers, Rites of Passage Men, Northumbria Community, Methodists, URCists and the odd brave Salvationist. All through the weekend I was struck by the beauty of people, everyday people, and not just the ones we were invited to look at and listen to on stage. I totally loved being a witness to the joy on the face of a blue-habbited Franciscan nun getting her picture taken under the sign of one of the festival bars: The Blue Nun!
Having said that, there were some great speakers. I was celebrity struck by Kate Bottley…the ‘Gogglebox Vicar’ who is a genuinely funny and passionate wee priest. I was inspired by the way that grace had led Nadia Bolt-Weber to be a free and authentically honest speaker and pastor. I could, and may, say so much more about her and her message.
I loved the soulful Jewish chanting led by Rachel Rose Reid. I loved the juicy depth of the poetry and craic of Padraig O’ Tuoma of the Corrymeala Community. Again, I found in Padraig a bit of a kindred soul and will be delving into his stuff in the future. I enjoyed hearing Tim Stead speaking about Christianity and Mindfulness, having already read his book on the subject. I thoroughly enjoyed the reasonably highbrow literature critique tent, and, of course, enjoyed spending time in the Grove..the earthy, outdoorsy, earth-based spirituality venue.
In all of that, the message that came to me was that of beauty even in darkness. Which, actually, was quite nice considering the theme of the week was ‘Silent Stars’. As one not unfamiliar with darkness, I’ve been learning more and more how to see light in the dark and so many of the experiences of the weekend brought a tear to the eye of a significantly recovered me as I traced hope through a bleak period.
Before heading off, some of my friends suggested I might be shocked. Greenbelt didn’t shock me. Rather, it gave me courage to begin to articulate things that are undercover for me at the moment upon hearing beautiful voices articulating what I have long been suspecting in some things. Shock is dead children, starving communities and the gruesome toll of war, the blight of poverty, and it is discrimination, Islamophobia and homophobia…Christians seeking to engage with those issues in a life-giving way is not shocking, its invigorating.
I will certainly be back at Greenbelt to meet with all the co-conspirators and soul people seeking to navigate and cultivate a generative and creative path for people of faith.