Top tips from a Greenbelt Virgin

I was a Greenbelt virgin until this weekened. I’ve not no good reason why I’ve never been to the festival of arts and spirituality which takes place at the ennd of August each year. However, this year I made it and I had a ball.

Here are my reflections.

1 – The Weather

Yes, Greenbelt is terribly affected by the weather. Saturday was a fine day and ended with a glorious red sunset. However, the shepherds were telling porkies. Sunday certainly wasn’t a delight. The rain started a bit drizzly and turned into a downpour just as i was starting to give my talk. (I did apologise to the crowd – ask a gay person to do anything and you get hurricanes and floods after all). However, the rain didn’t dampen spirits. If anything it just made the atmosphere in the tent in which I was speaking all the more electric.

When I first tweeted that I was a #greenbeltvirgin and asked for tips, most people welcomed me with messages that included the word #wellies. Now I know why.

2 – The Seating
It would have been handy to have brought wellies but it would have been even better to have brought a fold up camping chair. Old stagers knew this. Young stagers and #greenbeltvirgins sat on the grass or later stood in the mud. Having a chair with you is a great idea.

3 – The Organisation
I was really impressed with how it all ran. Even when it did rain, it wasn’t a disaster. Things were run fabulously efficiently. I got to my venue to speak and there was someone to look after me, someone to introduce me, a couple of BSL interpretors and someone making all the audio equipment run well. I can’t always manage this in a cathedral, never mind a field. Full marks to those who have learned how to do this.

4 The Crowd
I found the crowd of people I was speaking to the most receptive audience I think I’ve ever spoken to. They were committed and intereted and up for being challenged to think. People didn’t now quite was coming from me and I suspect that’s what they like. I have to admit to being nervous before the event, but I found people generous, interested and interesting throughout. I did remark during my talk that I was surprised that Greenbelt was not more ethnically diverse and it seems to me that there might be a good conversation to be had about what diversity actually means. (I’m familiar with people thinking something is diverse because they are a bit odd themselves but feel welcome and so presume that diversity has been achieved – there’s more to be said than that).

5 The Surprises
There’s a lot of surprises at Greenbelt. After we cleared out from an OuterSpace (ie overtly gay friendly) Eucharist on Saturday evening which was full of joy, the space was taken over by the Goth Eucharist. Now, that’s not particularly for me, but I loved being in a place where it could happen. Same with the gay drinks reception, which was a hoot. Whole bunch of gay people thinking “I never ever thought I’d be at a gay singles event at a Christian thing and look at all these people – there’s lots of us!” A red straw in your drink meant that you were available. Some had multiple red straws.

6 Churchmanship of Greenbelt
I’ve heard a few people say, when asked whether they are high or low or evangelical or liberal that they are none of those things but are really a Greenbelt Christian. I get that now. This was an event where the ethos would have been very familiar to many who come to my congregation, who just don’t fit into the old fashioned ways of characterising churches and Christians. For a lot of people I sensed that Greenbelt is where they are their most authentic selves and it gives them a boost each year which means that they can cope with the church in all its strangeness the rest of the year. For this itself, Greenbelt is doing a great work.

So, will I be back.

You bet.

Oh and PS – you can do Greenbelt without camping. I can recommend a good B and B.

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