I have a lot to thank Pete Rollins for, but the main one is that, in 2004, he asked me if I'd go to Greenbelt as part of Ikon and do a few poems. Greenbelt is an annual festival of arts, faith and justice. Up to 20,000 people gather in a field in England and there are performances, there's music, there's light, there's lots of tea, there's beer in the Jesus Arms, there are talks, there are opportunities for activism, there is gathering, there are missed events because you meet old friends or make new ones.
I haven't missed that festival since that first time. The photos do it some justice and the stories.
Paul and I had a deliciously busy Greenbelt this year in Kettering. We ran three Tenx9 storytelling sessions there, including one with youth. We had themes of "Travelling" and "Change". The youth stories were mostly of the thirty-second variety, including the following gems, the first from a nine year old and the second from a teenager.
I was delighted to do a poetry reading at the literature venue (all praise to the delicious Katherine Venn from Hodder Faith who organises that venue) and also did a session with some other writers, including a panel, led by the lovely Andrew Tate, featuring the magnificent Simon Jones (editor of Third Way Magazine) and the astonishingly erudite Sarah Perry (writer of 'After me comes the flood' reviewed by John Burnside here). The literature venue also hosted a reading by the amazing Patience Agbabi.
I was very moved by the words of Nadia during her Sermon on the Mount, and Doug Gay's elegant poetic words - where the form of preaching echoes the genre of biblical literature being preached from - moved me to tears. Nadia took a photograph of our shoes, and in my humble opinion, I win. In fact, whenever a shoe competition is taking place, the Duckfeet always win (humbly).
The lovely folks at the youth venue asked if I'd do a session on Ignatian Prayer with some of the youth and on the Sunday afternoon about ten or eleven young people showed up to listen to and speak from the imagination. Before we engaged with the prayer, I asked them why they'd shown up, and what their thoughts about Jesus of Nazareth were. One of them - she was shy and brave and clear and strong - said:
One of the reasons I love Greenbelt is because it seeks to be a place where people can tell the truth - the truth about their faith, the truth about the world and the truth about their lives. This young person had such integrity, and I will think about her words for a long time. The communion service on Sunday is always one that has the richness of song, liturgy, words to comfort and words to dislodge at its heart.
On Monday morning, the always brilliant Rachel Mann led a panel of people (Tracey Byrne from LGCM, Karl Rutlidge, Sara Miles and myself) looking at whether Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Intersex people are "an issue" or not for contemporary religious living. What was so beautiful (and so intentional from Rachel's masterful curating) was that there was space for the large crowd to come and speak. Some asked questions and others told stories. We heard - again and again - stories of power and life and sadness and survival of LGBTI people who had felt rejected. But more than that, we celebrated independence, survival, prophetic living and vibrancy together. Over and over we heard of how Greenbelt - among other places - and been significant in providing a place of connection for people who had felt left out. When I came to Greenbelt in 2004, I remember the relief of being in a place where truths of my life were not held as a secret but as a part of me. LGCM, with friends, led a gorgeous liturgy after Rachel's panel, where we heard more stories. Outerspace, LGCM, and Two23, together with Quest, Changing Attitude (look them up in England, Scotland and Ireland) and Diverse Church, are groups who carry on this work throughout the year. Additionally, a number of the denominations have been making steps (some little, some large) - it was great to hear from Methodists, Reformed and Quakers (oh my!) at Greenbelt.
Greenbelt is a small exercise in the art of missing things - by that I mean that there are so many lovely things going on at once that there is always something being missed out on. But, fortunately, there are lots of lovely talks (some free, some purchasable) to download. Often, even on the way to a seminar, I'd find myself bumping into a beautiful human (like the MOOT gang, or the WGRG crowd, or Gareth, or those gorgeous Dutch storytelling people from Tenx9 at Utrecht or Rijssen, or lovelies from Hertfordshire, Southampton, Dublin, Glasgow, Wales, Belfast, or Steve Lawson, or Mark and Josephine from Global Seesaw.
One time - a few years ago - at Greenbelt, I was furious. I'd read something that angered me and I found myself caught in predictable patterns of internal arguments, tired words and fury. Because I couldn't make my mind up, I went into the closest thing that was happening - a presentation by Ocham's Razor, an aerial theatre company who combine circus and theatre. They did three pieces, none of which had any commentary, but as I watched their powerful bodies, their elegant flights, the blank canvas of their stunning movement, I found myself taken from anger and into possibility. This is what makes Greenbelt so damned good - art is not there just to make a point, art is its own point and it can save us from ourselves.
Greenbelt was in a new site this year - and the work done by the staff, the teams, the volunteers, the stewards, the vendors, the sellers, the medics, the kind, the drivers, the welcomers, the dancers, the ones who make the site delightful, the ones who clean up, the ones who cough up - all make it a grassy sacrament of goodness that is unmissable. A massive 19% of their revenue comes from folks who give a bit of money per month. Greenbelt use the money well, with public accountability for their own and many other grass roots events. They even call their givers angels, which might be a reason to give.