Are you too old to witness Greenbelt at 70?
Janet and I have never been festival-goers. Whilst others have gone off to Glastonbury or even to Glyndebourne, only recently have we become a little more adventurous. Sure, we have been to the Edinburgh Festival and to various Book or Literature events in the open-air. But, a distinctly Christian festival has never attracted us. Perhaps we adhere to the wrong kind of theology for that.
But Greenbelt has long been a draw. But for years it was one we could resist because of other commitments - too near the start of term when we were working, co-coinciding most years with sporting events which we (or I) preferred or even the need to get the garden (and our finances) in order.
However, in 2018, Greenbelt eventually won out. Now we are both in that decade of our lives where we need to make the most of things we decided to give it a go. Of course, we chickened out of all that sleeping-in-a-tent or caravan nonsense. Off-site, in a Premier Inn, was the nearest we got to slumming it. But it was good, it was great fun and, guess what, we have already booked for next year.
A word of explanation for those who have never heard of Greenbelt. It is an annual Festival which has been organised for many years by Christians of many denominations acting independently from, but often supported by, their Churches. Its aim is to bring as many people together as possible into one place to hear modern (and older) Christian music, to listen to a wide and fascinating range of speakers from many backgrounds and all of wide renown, to play, to perform, to worship, to relax, to eat and drink and, hopefully, to meet up conicidentally with old friends. This year we met up with the Sheasby family who sent their love to Fulwood folk.
The site is a huge country park which provides space to do many things either quietly or noisily. Several huge marquees are used as venues and usually there are four or more events going on, morning, afternoon and night. The more adventurous pitch their tents (some pretty grand ones) or their caravans and motor homes on the adjacent fields, whilst we faced a not too demanding walk from a packed car park. At any one time there are several thousand people in attendance.
So what did we do? Well we ate and drank well - the many food outlets are of a very high standard. We carried our picnic chairs from venue to venue and then joined large numbers in one of the tents to listen, to agree or disagree, to sing and reflect, Some outstanding speakers that we heard, and we missed many more, included the countryís leading lay theologian (some of whose books we have read in the Church book club), a radically-thinking economist who taught us brilliantly about doughnut economics (look it up!), a poet who leads the Corrymeela community and the co-leader of The Green Party (a terrific public speaker). Sadly, we missed listening to Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate. We toured many exhibition stands, picked up much interesting information and literature, had some great conversations and, inevitably for me, spent too much at the book shop.
Sunday morning was the time of Festival Worship in the main marquee. We were told to get there early and we did but even then we couldnít get within twenty yards of the marquee. We heard everything but saw little. Several thousand people shared in a very simple but deeply meaningful Eucharist and we listened in awe, and some joined in, with the music from The Kingdom Choir (the choir which sang at the recent royal wedding).
So what did we talk about on the way home? Well for us it was the joy of being in the presence of thousands of people who it seemed shared our interests and convictions. that there is much more to religion, to our faith, than personal salvation. That God is active in the whole world and not just within the walls of our churches. That sharing ideas and passing on our convictions and facing up to our doubts, our hopes and fears, and encountering the wide variety of Godís creation was so refreshing and encouraging.
We were told that, unlike any other festival, two days later the whole site was litter free and fully restored to its rural tranquility.
Would we go again, one year older still? Well, I have answered that question already.