Ten years ago, I went to a Christian festival for the first time. I went with good family friends and when we arrived, I was astounded to see that there were so many young people there.
I didn’t know there were that many young Christians in the country, let alone at one festival! I experienced different types of worship for the first time, and I learned how to pray. I fell in love with the colour of it all, the relaxed vibe and the way that there was something different around every corner. I found a place where I could be myself, try new things, and throw as many bright colours on myself as I wanted without anybody batting an eyelid.
Eleven Greenbelts later, and I can say that Greenbelt is the pace that I really do call home. In the middle of the exhaustion and intensity of New Wine earlier in the summer, I said to my husband: ‘I just don’t seem to fit anywhere. I float up and down the liturgical candle like a bubble in a lava lamp. I don’t have a home anywhere’. ‘You fit at Greenbelt’ said Nathan, who is often a source of truth during wobbles such as this.
Over the last decade, I have loved to introduce people to Greenbelt. Some just come for a year, others for more. Some notable people have been transformed by it and have come back to church after many years away. Nowadays, for me, Greenbelt is less about exploring new ways to worship and more about meeting up with various friends from over the years. Friends from home, college, other churches and sometimes twitter friends who become real friends over a pint in the beer tent! And this year, I spent many delightful hours helping keep our very energetic and deeply wonderful 21 month old Goddaughter entertained.
Last year, I had my hen do at Greenbelt, and my husband had his stag there too (my blog about it can be found here).
The intention was to sit in our respective groups at opposite sides of the beer tent, with banter meeting in the middle, but in reality, we just took up one long section of picnic benches and laughed and talked (and drank!) all together for hours. Our friends, the stags and hens, some with a faith background and some without, had a really good time and enjoyed the vibe of the place. With getting on for 20 of us last year, this year our group was much smaller, but it was really lovely to return and glamp as our near-anniversary treat.
This year, the theme was ‘acts of the imagination’, with various new venues as well as a communion service based on the Windrush Generation. During the communion service, the main tent was absolutely packed and hundreds of others stood outside under umbrellas in the rain. It was, as always, wholesome, thought provoking, and the best communion service I attend all year. Nathan had a particularly wonderful time as our goddaughter slept on him almost the whole way through!
One of my favourite new features of the festival this year was the venue ‘Table’. At the front of the large, open mouthed tent was a kitchen worktop on a raised platform where speakers cooked and talked about various issues (picture below). Unlike when watching a cooking programme, we couldn’t see the food close up -although we could smell it! So the most interesting thing was the chat that went along with the cooking. When one lady, Phoebe, was cooking a Palestinian breakfast, she was talking about the food that grows in Palestine and the brands we can buy which are ethical. I’m a massive fan of Palestinian food from my couple of visits to the Holy Land, so this was right up my street! Her blog, which she writes with her Mum, can be found here. She made me realise that there is so much more to food than what it tastes like! Food is also about where it comes from, the culture that developed it and the impact that we have upon the world when we buy different produce.
There is always a focus on the environment at Greenbelt, but this year it seemed to be super green! They encouraged the food stalls and traders to use as little plastic as possible, even buying in water in a cans for each vendor to sell. Every plate I ate off was paper, and the cutlery we used was made of wood. There were even ‘compost loos’ where you did your business on a raised platform that opened up into a large wheelie bin, and then threw a cup of saw dust on top to cover up the smell! Nathan and I had a go on these to see what they were like, and we were pleasantly surprised! They are better for the environment and surprisingly, smelt much better than the portaloos 3 days into the festival!
We were encouraged to bring our own cups to the communion service so that they didn’t need to give out as many disposable plastic ones to pour wine into. Nathan brought the pottery cup from his home communion set, and our friends brought a bright blue plastic wine glass! There is such beauty in diversity! There is something about a festival that takes place in a completely green site that makes me more aware of creation. Reducing the amount of plastic we throw away, even in the recycling bin, should be a priority everyday, not just for one bank holiday weekend of the year.
I have worked out that as this was my eleventh Greenbelt, I have spent 44 days of my life attending the festival, all told. Considering what a small amount of time that really is, Greenbelt has, and has had, a huge impact on my life and I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about it! The first thing that Nathan and I discovered that we had in common when I went for my interview at Cranmer Hall three and a half years ago, was that we both love Greenbelt. It is a very important part of me and I would really encourage anyone who is passionate about people, or God, or the Church, or the planet, or social justice to think about attending.
It’s true that Greenbelt is what you make of it. You can go and do a whole load of God stuff, or not. You can try a whole load of new foods, or not. You can listen to people talking about new ideas, or not. You can make a whole load of new friends, or not. You can spend all day listening to music, or not. You can run around like crazy, getting to as many sessions as you can, or not.
I have got so much stick from various people for my support and love of Greenbelt over the years. But I challenge anyone to come and to not enjoy a weekend in such a chilled, friendly, colourful and thought-provoking environment.
Here’s to Greenbelt 2019, where the theme will be wit and wisdom. More info and tickets available from their website.