‘Seeds of creative imagination will grow forests of change’…
Just been to my first ever Greenbelt Festival YES! It’s only been going since 1974, so it’s taken me a bit of time to get there. But having got there, y’know what, it’s a grand place to be. And especially because of the fact (not despite of!) I’d only been back in the country for 3 days. Should you find yourself living elsewhere in the world for long periods of time – and then on return, want an in-depth but all-expansive, see-everything, do-everything, learn-everything kind of immersive experience of the best that the UK church has to offer, then Greenbelt is THE place to go.
Greenbelt describes itself as ‘a festival of arts, faith and justice. The best you’ve never heard of’. That’s kind of it. All those famous people (who I’d never heard of anyway) were all there. Doing their stuff, doing what they do best, whether it was a rock band, performance art, leading worship or a seminar or cooking, they were all there, and we all had a chance to learn from them, to see and to do.
Greenbelt says ‘Our history is firmly rooted within a Christian tradition which is world-affirming, politically and culturally engaged. Ours is a belief that embraces instead of excludes. And, as such, the festival is an inter-generational celebration, inclusive and accepting of all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, background or belief.’
Which really means that everyone is welcomed. And it all takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend every year, and since 2013, has been held in the grounds of Boughton House, Kettering, Northants. That in itself is relevant. Only a few miles up the road is Corby, one of the many places I lived as a child. In those days, Corby was full of vast new housing estates, and from there, we rode our bikes into the local countryside, all around Boughton House, to and through all the neigbouring villages. But of course, we never went into Boughton House or even into the grounds. And so here I was, now, all these years later in 2018, camping in the very grounds of Boughton House. Whoopee!
Yes, I admit it, Greenbelt is a bit of a culture shock. But of the pleasant kind. Mainly cos it’s so big and there’s so many people in such a huge area, that you can be as involved or as uninvolved as you like. You can go to everything or nothing. And you can see, learn and do as much as you like.
A little rewind to last week, and I had left Kota Kinabalu, E. Malaysia very early on Monday August 20, heading for London. It was to be a long long long day that turned into night when the flight from Kuala Lumpur was delayed 2 hours, which meant missed connections. So after a night in a hotel in Dubai, finally I got to London on Tuesday afternoon. Collected a car on Thursday (very nice silver VW Polo) and set off for Greenbelt on Friday. Fortunately Greenbelt offer (via Camplight) packages for hire of a recycled tent, sleeping bag, mat and chair. So there I was all set up. This is my green tent in the foreground and the view from it. And very comfortable I was too!
And the highlights of Greenbelt?
On Friday, I went to see Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate. Amazing.
On Saturday, I went to see Pussy Riot as they shared about their vision, motivation, their protests, time in prison – and answered questions. Really interesting. Learned a whole lot. Also saw the second half of their performance, ‘Riot Days’ on the Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday, there was the big Communion Service, taking the theme of ‘Windrush and Carnival’, remembering, praying and celebrating the 70th anniversary of the arrival in the UK from the Caribbean of the ‘Windrush Generation’. By mid-morning it was pouring with rain, and continued all day. I was there, in all my rain-gear and umbrella, sitting outside in the pouring rain along with everyone else. Every festival needs some rain. Not too much, but some. It adds to the atmosphere. And rain, of course means mud. Loved it!
On Sunday afternoon, went to listen to Rev. Winnie Varghese sharing about the Episcopal Church and #metoo. Very relevant.
On Sunday evening, there was a USPG Solidarity Prayer Vigil with the Igorot peoples from the northern Philippines, via London. They started with dancing…
And on Monday, I went to see Jo Berry and Pat Magee sharing their incredibly moving story of how they became friends through the most terrible of events. Jo Berry’s father was MP, Anthony Berry, who was killed in the IRA Brighton Bombing in 1984, and Pat Magee was the man who planted the bomb. These days they work together to promote peace and understanding in areas of conflict. Unbelievably humbling.
And then I went to visit Boughton House. One of 4 stately homes belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, it’s famous for its amazing art collections, beautiful gardens and cos it looks like Versailles. But, in the context of the 70th anniversary of Windrush, it is impossible to ignore the role of Britain in the slave trade, and even of Boughton House, and many other stately homes. Money flowed from their plantations in St. Lucia, presumably funding their extravagant lifestyle, art purchases, and house and garden renovations. Slaves from the Caribbean were brought to work in the house, a source of great pride at the time for the owners, symbolizing their own high status and great wealth. And here was Greenbelt in the midst of all that history. And yet, if you had to choose another venue, it’d be impossible to choose one that didn’t have similar associations. During World War II, the British Museum sent many of their treasures for safekeeping in Boughton House, the army took over the grounds, the US air force were stationed nearby, and by the end of the war there were 2,000 German POW soldiers living there too.
Other highlights of Greenbelt were the discussions, seminars, workshops, concerts and art installations. Something for everyone…
Meeting old friends was also a highlight. Especially grateful to Tim and his family who gave me delish Sunday breakfast and Phil who took me for Sunday lunch. Also Colin, Chuli, Michael and their families. And I mustn’t forget Church Mission Society, CMS, who had a stand, the CMS Mission Mystery House, which 4 of my CMS friends took care of all day long. They smiled non-stop all day, talked to everyone and still looked happy when I left on Monday lunchtime. These are the before and after photos, taken on Friday night and Monday lunchtime. Still smiling. Respect!
So if you get a chance to go to Greenbelt, then do go! Definitely worth it. A big thank you to all those who made it possible. And to those of my friends who were there, but who I only found out were there when I saw their photos on Facebook after they’d left, sorry we never met up. But then, what a lot we’ll have to talk about if and when we do meet up in the coming months!
Greenbelt was an oasis in the midst of daily life. Now back to reality. Been to East Grinstead, Rochester and now Deal, Kent. Listening to people sharing their stories of good things that have happened, and of course what’s gone wrong in the UK since I was last here (just don’t mention Southern Rail!), and what’s in fashion, and what’s out. Learning a lot!
Thanks be to God for his many blessings and his provision.
Onward and outward we go!