Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Greenbelt 2014 - Travelling Light - some thoughts

I am just back from this years Greenbelt festival at its new venue – Boughton House, Kettering.

The theme for this years’ festival was Travelling Light. As I was lugging my camping gear from the car park to the camping area I was beginning to wish I had done just that. But more of that later.

The new site is beautiful. Its setting in the grounds of the lovely Boughton House is quite idyllic. It gave the whole weekend more of a festival appeal and allowed for venues such as the Grove to come into their own. This is a small outdoor space which was used particularly well by those involved in Forest Churches, which explore the relationship between faith and our natural world. My wife Jackie and I went to the waning moon event on the Friday evening and found it fascinating and quite moving. (I should say that there were those who thought it actually involved Wayne mooning but that is another story.) Some say that it is a bit New Age but in fact it is the opposite. I have found some interesting stuff here –

Greenbelt is a festival which includes speakers, often with a radical edge, music and performing arts. One speaker who is worth a mention was Nadia Bolz-Weber from Denver, Colorado. I have heard her before and recently read her book in which she writes of her experience of watching 24 hrs of God TV non stop*! She speaks as she writes – it is pacey, funny and powerful. Two things stick in the memory. One was her comment on LGBT friends. She reminded us that we do not welcome them because they are a project; so that we can feel that we are ‘in touch’ and ‘inclusive’. Rather, we welcome them because they are not really different from the rest of us. We are all in need of God’s grace. In another session she talked about her own church which is the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Her congregation includes many who are on the edge of society including the homeless, those with addictions and ‘drag queens’. But they only really struggled with welcoming strangers when a group of 50 something, respectable citizens from the suburbs turned up! Hang on that’s me!

Brian D McLaren has been a huge influence for me and I enjoyed hearing him on the bible and on other religions. I have read most that he has written on these subjects and he has helped me get through a number of difficult times especially with the bible! He is one of those speakers that I could listen to for hours. I also confess that became a bit of a groupie by going to get a signed copy of his latest book, We Make The Road by Walking. I had the briefest of chats and was tempted to ask for a selfie but bottled it.

The best performance, by a mile came from the brilliant poet Harry Baker –

My name is Harry Baker,
Harry Baker is my name
If your name was Harry Baker
Our names would be the same

So you get the idea! It is unique, machine gun slam poetry. His use of words is pure genius. You can catch him on You Tube doing the magnificent Paper People –

He is surely destined for greatness.

On the music side I caught Levi Hummon at the Canopy Tent. A great young singer songwriter from Nashville who appeared alongside his dad Marcus Hummon. Think Jake Bugg does bluegrass and you get a vague idea! And there was Sinead O’Connor. I didn’t know what to expect. She looked like an older version of, well, Sinead O’Connor. The first couple of songs didn’t do much. But I have to say that I warmed to her as she got going. She still has a voice to die for. She did a great version of her one huge hit which feels like a lot more than 7 hours and 16 days ago. But the highlight was the beautiful Thank You For Hearing Me. She can still rock it with the best them and was a real and pleasant surprise.

One other highlight was the fantastic reception for Vicky Beeching as she appeared in the Big top for a session on marriage - 

And we cannot forget the volunteers who man the  various stalls in G-Source - particularly those supporting Palestine which is a subject close to my heart.

So overall it was a great success and congratulations to the organisers for the brave decision to go for something so different from the previous years at Cheltenham Racecourse. There were quite a few teething problems. Access to the site was a nightmare and many people, particularly those with mobility problems, had a major struggle to get from the car parks to the camping area where no vehicles were allowed. That will need to be looked at next year.

But this also brought out the best. The Greenbelt volunteers were heroes as they helped us brave the elements on the final day. And there were many younger and healthier campers who helped others to drag their gear back through mud. A special word goes to the women who helped me pull my trolley up the hill from the campsite who turned out to be a vicar from a church in Bootle..

I also noticed lots of queues at women’s loos so maybe a few more of them next year too!

But I have come away with much to think about and will certainly be there in 2015 – although possibly in a bed and breakfast!!


Photo curtesy of Jackie!

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