Brenda and I were fortunate enough to catch the first couple of days of the Greenbelt Festival at the end of August. Greenbelt is a Christian festival that has been running annually for 45 years. It has grown a great deal over that time, and these days it is held in part of the Boughton House estate in Northamptonshire. It describes itself as a festival for “arts, faith and justice”. We’d never been there before and it was a revelation. There were thousands of people there, attending events, concerts, talks, activities and services in countless marquees, tents, big tops and stalls – on theology, ecology, social justice, the arts, and much more. There were temporary shops selling books (I could happily have spent the entire time in the bookshop!), gifts and food from all over the world. Many people there were camping, in tents or camper-vans, and enjoying the hard ground after this wonderful summer, rather than the mud which can sometimes create a challenge at big festivals. We heard various interesting people there, including the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, the theologian and writer Paula Gooder, and song-writer Vicky Beeching. We came away with a wealth of information and ideas.
What struck us was the wonderful atmosphere there. It’s not often that thousands of people gathered in one place generate a sense of calm and kindness. There was no impatience, no jostling, no litter. You knew you could leave a bag somewhere and find it still there later. You could talk to anyone and make new friends. There was, in short, a wonderful feeling of community, inclusion and warmth. Everything, in fact, that you’d hope to find in any Christian community. Also, it was a community where all could feel at home and catered for: old and young, black and white, gay and straight, and indeed Christians and non-Christians.
It was vibrant, stimulating and uplifting. You sometimes hear people say (mistakenly) that the church is dying. Well, numbers in some churches may be decreasing, but not everywhere. If you go to Greenbelt you’re aware that the Church is well and truly alive, and life-giving! I’d recommend Greenbelt to anyone.