There’s not nothing quite like Greenbelt
There’s nothing at all like Greenbelt. Every year it is a major highlight of my year, but every year it seems to get better. I breathe the “I’m home” sigh as I sip my first Chai tea, sing the first verse in “beer and hymns” or “the big sing”, hear John Bell’s lyrical accent or bite into a Nuts falafel.
What is Greenbelt? Greenbelt is an arts, faith and justice festival that takes place over the August bank holiday weekend at Cheltenham Racecourse every year. Somehow that doesn’t describe it at all. It’s Christian, but it’s also a place where no one can feel out of place. It’s got art, but you’re more likely to sit in it than look at it. But it’s got justice. Christian Aid are a big partner.
Several thousand people go every year of all ages, mostly youth, but enough grey hairs there for me not to feel out of place. All denominations and probably a fair few of no faith going along for the fun will be represented.
I came with my family – one husband, two daughters, Helen, 12 and Sophie, 10 and Tom, 7. Plus greenbelt freshers friend of 12-year-old-daughter and student friend. I felt a bit of responsibility for my entourage at first, especially the friends, but they seemed to just go with the flow and enjoy it as much as I did.
Most people camp – including us CEL people this year. It’s a big camping area – George managed to get totally lost trying to find his tent one night. He did find his tent eventually, but if the risk of something similar happening to you is too great there is university accommodation and guesthouses in Cheltenham.
The theme this year was “Saving Paradise” and the weather was appropriate. Torrential rain causing monsoon style mud suggesting that we weren’t. Wish we’d packed both of Tom’s wellies – he had to ooze in crocs.
Pretty much all the green Christian organisations that exist in the UK got together to do a joint stall in the resource tent – g-source. At least two people staffed the stall on a rotating basis. We had a bicycle where people could cycle to recharge their mobile phones, a tree for people to post prayers and paper games based on earth, wind, fire and water.
People were happy to sign the Operation Noah Ash Wednesday Declaration, take literature and chat.
CEL had an hour on the g-stage doing sketches including the Dead Planet Sketch and George talked about CEL, ecocell and finished with a prayer backed by a particularly loud thunder clap while torrential rain began to flood the tent.
I didn’t get to many talks, having my family there who wanted to watch films about Chipmunks and Muppets, but I loved Paul Kerensa’s climate change comedy act and always try to stay up for the late night “last orders”, which is INSIDE rather than in a muddy, drafty tent, from 11pm till 1am or so and has interviews with speakers and the odd songs from singers and they always manage to get one or two comedians to come along. One of my highlights was something I only went to because someone else was going – the poetry of Sh’maya, brought tears to my eyes.
Wild Goose worship is always great – the Iona lot doing a worship session with songs, prayers and always some memorable and not too uncomfortable activity.
My only complaint would be that Greenbelt isn’t nearly green enough. There are still non-long-life bulbs decorating venues and justice-now still seems to trump life-at-all later in the lineup. But we’re all on a green journey.
My best bit was Sunday morning communion when the whole festival get together outside to take communion together. The sun came out. My friends and family were there. The youngest in our group of 15 or so was given the job of breaking the pitta bread. On a hillside with a lot more than 5000 people my son broke and shared the bread.