Greenbelt 2009 Reflection

It is early on tuesday morning, I still have a caravan to pack up but in this early morning light, I want to reflect on my Greenbelt experience for 2009, which has been quite profound in places.

The first thing to recognise is that you simply cannot ‘do’ the entire festival: there is simply too much to do and see and visit and in many ways your Greenbelt is mapped not by what you see but by what you missed. Diary-clashes, conversations in cofffee shops, family needs all meant that some speakers and worship events were simply missed: Gene Robinson and Jonathon Clark were both in that category – Sorry Guys (and especially after I am told that Jonathon said such nice things about Blesséd).

What I did see had  a major impact on some of my thinking: Rob Bell in real life is as engaging as the Nooma videos but much, much funnier. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a cleverer, taller, female version of me but with significantly more tattoos. She spoke brilliantly on being both emerging and denominational (in her case, a progressive, sacramental Lutheran) with honesty and humour. I am now assured that I am no longer the only pastor to use the word f**k in my preaching to good effect. Brilliant, simply brilliant.

I worshipped with Visions and with Ambient Wonder. I did Orthodox Vepers with a Church in Bath. I spent a lot of time looking at art and overhearing comedy and very very little time listening to music; although this was the festival to my teenage children, who spent it all at the Underground venue where it was loud and sweaty.

Most significantly, I spent a lot of time in conversations with people: talking about their communities and their faith and a bit (okay, I admit it, a lot) about Blesséd and STE and my ministry. And still, there were lots of people whom I didn’t get a chance to talk to: Fr. Phil, Fr Alex, Mother Kathryn – I still owe you all a coffee, but to those I did get the chance to talk to: thank  you. You made the festival for me.

As for our contributions? I have already reflected on the first one, and the kind comments just keep on coming. One of the technical team admitted that raised as a Baptist he was fearful and distrustful of the idea of anglocatholic sacramentalism and had his mind blown away by Blesséd on Saturday night; others have approached me and been really positive and I have been encouraged by that. The Fire Officers win a special prize.

The Youth Mass was in a difficult space to make sacred and few young people came. It is their right not to come, but clearly these worship things were low in priority. Thank goodness for the good number of adults who did come. The Blesséd Team were (as before) just fantastic and delivered a Mass of Mystery which was just wonderful.

On Monday I was part of a conversation panel on Do this in Remembrance of me: sacraments and emerging church with Pete Rollins of Ikon, Bev from the Church Army (although not in the Church Army I note: Capt Gordon Banks would have been a brilliant contributor on this subject I feel), Pauline was a wonderful NT Scholar and me as the only priest.

Clearly it was a bit of a setup between me and Pete. When asked to give an importance rating to the sacraments between one and ten, I naturally said “it goes all the way up to eleven” and I think I was expected to have a protectionist, institution-centric view of priesthood. However, my focus was on the fact that they are God’s sacraments, not ours and that the incarnation is (like the sacraments) for our benefit, not God’s. As the conversation carried on, my declaration that ‘all of life is sacramental’ must have worked, and it showed that although Pete and I sit in very different places, we were able to have a dialogue and I would love to continue it with him. Yes, it did dwell a lot on Communnion, but we emphasised the central role of Baptism to it all, and the place of healing, reconciliation and the nine sacraments of the church.

A man approached me later and said that he entered the conversation assuming the worst with an anglocatholic priest on the panel, but was drawn in by the openness and inclusivity of the sacramental life that I portrayed. Some good happened, then. It was well attended, and although I said some stupid things, I suspect I also said some reasonable things as well. Thank you, God.

The Christian Aid display using piles of rice to illustrate key world statistics was very powerful, and I think an idea for use in Holy Week as an installation. The art installation on children in care was also so, so powerful: I was moved.

What I loved was the open and accepting tone of the festival: there was a sort of implicit inclusivity. Not only were the LGBT represented (and not hassled) but accepted: I saw gay couples walking down the concourse holding each other’s hands – now would you see that at Spring Harvest? Bravo. My perspective and theology were accepted and engaged with (and challenged) but not dispised and I was invited to share with others. This makes me happy.

So, overall a good long weekend. Blesséd did well and went well and would not have been possible without the hard work of the team. I learnt a lot, and have much to think about.

Deo Gratias