Last year's festival was held at Cheltenham Racecourse, and this had been the venue for a number of years. For many of the 'regulars', it felt like home, and the move to (literally) pastures new was a big wrench for some this year. Boughton House, near Kettering was, though, a perfect setting for this weekend of art, music, justice and spirituality. Perhaps the only downside to this beautiful greenfield site was the lack of anywhere where you could go to get really warm.
My approach to events such as this is not to try and do too much (it's very easy to do that, as the programme is so varied and full), and I set myself the goal of trying to get to listen to a couple of the speakers and a couple of the musical items, and anything else would be a bonus. It was a particular thrill to sit at the feet of American Pastor, theologian and prophet Brian McLaren - and to have an albeit brief conversation on two occasions, and also to hear first-hand from the challenging Nadia Bolz-Weber about the things that she is doing with her congregation in Denver, CO, 'The House for All Sinners and Saints'.
Sunday morning at Greenbelt features the huge open-air Communion, and this year's was a very moving occasion, as we sat and shared in groups around the massive Glade stage area, having listened to stirring testimony from Mpho Tutu and Becca Stevens. The juxtaposition of the corporate and the intimate is always moving.
|Communion in the sunshine|
Musically the big draw this year was the appearance on Sunday evening of Sinead O'Connor, and the Glade was absolutely packed for a performance full of energy and passion (though maybe the sound balance could've been a little better: from my vantage point at the back of the arena, safe in the environs of Greenbelt's own pub, the 'Jesus Arms', it wasn't always easy to make out what she was singing about.)
But Sinead wasn't my musical highlight. That accolade went to the Malian band Tinariwen, who closed the show on Monday evening with their particular blend of Saharan blues. What gave their performance that extra 'something' was the fact that by that point it had been raining solidly for nearly 24 hours and the site was quickly dissolving into a mud-bath. Saharan blues in pouring rain - wonderful!
|Tinariwen in the rain|
The music, the teaching, the new foods to try (I don't know many other places where Goan Fish curry and Tibetan beef stew are readily available), the camping, the opportunities to meet up with old friends and to make new ones, and the chance to have ones views and opinions tested, challenged and changed, all make Greenbelt an event which has quickly and firmly established itself in my calendar. Why not join us next year?