Friday, 29 August 2014

Greenbelt: Something for Everybody

For a number of years now I have spent the August Bank Holiday weekend at Greenbelt. I was first introduced to it by some young people at my church in Leytonstone, and I have loved it ever since. It has grown in numbers over the years, and developed a distinctive character. Children go there for the fun and games, teenagers mostly for the pop music and creative projects, and us oldies mostly for the talks and panel discussions and to meet old friends. It is a huge family festival with a special appeal for Christians with open minds and a concern for justice and peace.

This year saw a change of venue. After a number of years at Cheltenham Racecourse, it has moved to the grounds of Boughton House, near Kettering. This is a very different site, much more rural, and naturally there were teething troubles. There were critical comments, and apologies from the organisers, but I didn’t hear any moaning. Greenbelt is a bit like Christmas: whatever little inconveniences we have to put up with, everybody makes the effort to stay cheerful and be nice to one another.

It’s also a bit like the Edinburgh Festival: there is a vast range of things to choose from, and by choosing some you inevitably miss others. I went to talks by John Bell, the ever popular speaker and hymn writer from the Iona Community; by Brian McLaren, writer of books such as A New Kind of Christianity; by Nadia Bolz-Weber, the very unconventional pastor of a very unusual church in America; and by the Bible scholar Richard Burridge who was reflecting on the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian 35 years on.

For me there were two highlights. The first was a panel discussion on issues surrounding marriage in view of the new legislation, chaired by Vicky Beeching, a popular Christian singer. I must confess I had never heard of her till last week, when she hit the headlines by coming out as gay and telling the harrowing story of the self-condemnation she had experienced as she grew up in a conservative Christian environment, and how she now has a passion to save other young people from going through the same. As she walked onto the stage at Greenbelt, there was a standing ovation that seemed as though it would go on for ever!

The other highlight was hearing Mpho Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu, talking about forgiveness. She and her father have just published a book called The Book of Forgiveness. Needless to say, I went straight to the bookstore to buy it and join the queue like a teenage fan for her autograph! Like her father, she was so friendly and charming with everybody that it was quite a long wait.

If you haven’t been to Greenbelt, whatever your age, try it! Most people camp there in tents or caravans, but if that’s not your style (as it certainly isn’t mine!) you can always find a hotel or guest house or, if like me you’re really lucky, you may have friends who live nearby.