Greenbelt 2014: Changes

Greenbelt has changed this year, just as I am sure that Greenbelt has changed many times over the years. I am not a lifetime Greenbelter, but over the last five years it has become part of my spiritual rhythm. This year that pattern included Naturally Supernatural at Soul Survivor, On Fire, and the Walsingham National Pilgrimage.

The site was the biggest change. Boughton House is brilliant as a venue, and Greenbelt creatively made use of the lie of the land to craft an experience that Cheltenham could not offer. However there were hiccoughs: access on and off site was difficult especially for day visitors. Where we were camping the toilets were frequently over full - sanitation seemed to be an issue across site, with some nasty outbreaks on the caravan field in particular. Mobile signal, especially data was variable to non-existent on many networks and there was no WiFi available, which meant that the vital extra social and interactive layers provided by social media were absent from talks and discussions.

The change in site also had an influence on the venues available. There was less AV technology available and fewer medium size venues. The Goth Eucharist for example was squeezed into a 200 capacity youth venue. 

A Trimmed Fringe

Friends with young children reported that the family activities were better this year but the changes in site haven't made a significant impact on the ageing demographic of festival-goers.One of the challenges we face with the Goth Eucharist is that Greenbelt no longer has an alternative fringe, and the musical line up reflected that. Greenbelt has always felt mainstream, but it seems to be even more so than five years ago.

Greenbelt also felt more uniformly liberal protestant this year. In the past I have praised Greenbelt because I could hear evangelical speakers whilst participating in daily alternative  (anglo) catholic worship. That just didn't happen this year, the evangelical, charismatic and catholic fringes seemed lessened. Indeed this is the first time that I haven't found Greenbelt to be a principally spiritual experience rather than a cultural one.


Having said all that what worship I did go to was great. The Lucinarium on the Mount overlooking the site opened the festival for me, led by the local parish church. The Mount venue was home to reflections on the Sermon on the Mount throughout the festival, including a brilliant performance by the Salt-mine Theatre Group. In contrast to The Mount, Orpheus sunk deep into the earth had a fantastic set of stations on Sunday from Transcendence.

The Grove was a more central venue for earth traditions this year, which had a profound sense of sacred space throughout the weekend. I joined the different forest church groups for their opening ceremony and on Saturday I particularly enjoyed the Wisdom of Black Elk with Simon Cross.

Later on Friday evening MCC North London offered pentecostal worship and prayer ministry - and it was great to be prayed for by members of their team. Unless I missed something this was the only overtly charismatic event of the weekend.

The End of Talks

On Friday evening was a discussion on The End of Marriage, which was a bit of a mess to be honest. Dr Miranda Threfall-Holmes spoke about marriage's chequered historical past and unpopularity with the church before the 3rd Century (do note the quote below), Rachel Mann spoke about the fetishisation of Marriage by the church, and Marika Rose spoke about polyamorous relationships. Admittedly the presentations were meant to provoke - and I did not get to attend the other discussions of marriage of the weekend but the suggestion from others was they followed some of the same lines.

So to respond: Marriage as sacrament is a limited reflection of the eternal consummation between Christ and his church - you cannot speak of marriage without speaking of eschatology. It is unique in that it is a sacrament that the church ultimately cannot claim to control, existing in creation and wherever procreational love finds expression. Yet Tertullian (C2nd) writes
"How shall we ever be able adequately to describe the happiness of that marriage which the Church arranges, the Sacrifice strengthens, upon which the blessing sets a seal, at which angels are present as witnesses, and to which the Father gives His consent?"
Perhaps such a relationship could be polyamorous and open, but just as marriage cannot be discussed outside of eschatology, polyamory cannot be discussed outside of a GUM clinic. I fear there is a wider post-evangelical naivety about issues of sexuality and gender, especially amongst those who are recently broadening their views. The realities are more complex and sometimes more shocking.

Looking back it seems I failed to go to many other talks. The talk on the Life of Brian and Biblical Scholarships was brilliant. Apart from that I wanted to avoid anyone I had read or heard before. Which meant I didn't get to to much at all!


Much of the music at Greenbelt is pleasant but forgettable. I enjoyed Giles Peterson's set - despite an unofficial Beer and Hymns (... why ... won't ... you ... die ...) trying to sabotage it. Someone told me police were involved but I have no evidence. The Cut Ups sung  punk songs about Exeter, which was a very good thing. Sinead had a very attractive band. Johnny and the Baptists were funny but restrained as I suspect they feared offending. I enjoyed traveller poetry from Damian Le Bas especially and Babylon was a brilliant play.

The Big Question

Over the last few years I have loved contributing to Greenbelt. I have no sense of ownership over Greenbelt - much like an oil tanker it will plot its own course and we just ride the wake. And whilst Greenbelt continues to be open to the alternative, the sacramental and the radical I will keep riding. But after this year would I pay to go to Greenbelt or recommend it to others? I am not sure I would.

Especially if there were an alternative that was less culturally mainstream, less theologically liberal and less protestant. There isn't such an alternative.

Not Yet.

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