For me, one of the hardest pills to swallow so far this year was the cancellation of Greenbelt Festival. I first went as a teen in 2008 and I have never looked back. It strengthens, challenges, sustains, delights and grounds me. In every way, it’s full of rainbows. It is home.
So, the thought of facing this summer without Greenbelt really stung. Initially, we had plans to host our own mini Greenbelt in our garden with lots of family and friends, but with restrictions as they are, various people in lockdown and others in quarantine, it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen quite like that.
But in the end, the weekend exceeded all expectations. We had Mum, Dad & Isabelle over and we accessed the online activities on Saturday. There were panels, quizzes, music and in the evening we joined in with beer and hymns.
Worshipping and raising a glass with thousands in the sunshine is always so powerful, and I had low expectations of Beer & Hymns on Zoom, but it was actually really moving. The view changed every line or so which meant that our screen was taken up with an image from another home and we could see other people participating. We even saw friends from Retford singing along with their drinks! It was like a sped up version of Greenbelt, smiling at everybody, waving at the people and looking out for those we know. It created such a sense of community – thank God for technology!
On Sunday we were joined by others and there was the ‘Big Greenbelt Picnic’. In Greenbelts past, we have gathered on Sunday morning to share communion, sing and pray. Over the years I’ve seen everything from ankle high mud to blazing sunshine during the communion service. This year, we watched a video premier on Youtube. Kate Bottley and others were filmed on the very empty Greenbelt site as they prayed, acted out a bible story and led us in liturgy. There were songs and we had a sermon from the wonderful Becky Tyler. You can check out the video here.
As well as the online stuff, we had lots of Greenbelt themed food and drink. There was tartiflette like Le Grande Bouffe, crepes, noodles, lemon chicken, bacon butties, and goan fish curry, with thanks to my Dad! There was beer, gin, plenty of tea and we also ordered a keg of Crazy Goat cider (there’s even a bit left over!). We had a big BBQ after the picnic aired, spaced out under a gazebo that Nathan borrowed from the local Guide group. It was delightful.
Although it wasn’t what I had hoped for, and I missed being at Greenbelt very, very much, I did enjoy sleeping in my bed, showering and being able to nip inside when it got cold! Another added bonus was the presence of Mr Bingley, our family greyhound who lives in Retford. He seemed as happy as we were to spend time together and enjoy the vicarage garden.
I have found that over the summer, between my periods of sulking about the lack of festival, I have glimpsed Greenbelt in many ways. Sat in the garden drinking cider with our friends just after we moved in, I glimpsed Greenbelt. In a shop we found on holiday which smelled of incense and sold journals, rainbow clothes and eco friendly crockery, I found Greenbelt. When I held a Standing Committee meeting under a gazebo, it started to spit and I saw Greenbelt. I’ve seen it over lockdown when people put strangers before themselves and neighbours reconnected. I’ve noticed Greenbelt as the planet has had a chance to breathe because we all stayed still for a while.
I’ve come to realise that Greenbelt isn’t really a once a year thing. It’s not on a racecourse, or on the grounds of a stately home, or in my back garden. It can be glimpsed any time, any where. It might be just around the corner. It’s in the unlikely places. It’s like the Kingdom of God – a little Greenbelt produces a lot of good. It’s a pause, a moment, a chance to breathe within the fast-paced and intense lives that many of us live. Greenbelt is wild, and it is home.