Friday, 29 August 2014


This Blog follows on from asking questions about Changes at Greenbelt and about the lack of UK Emergent Speakers.

Part of the reason that we have fewer UK 'Name' speakers is that emergent movements in UK Christianity have tended to follow the pattern of Symposia - either communicating through worship or short talks. This does not naturally produce single name speakers.

For the Rural Fresh Expressions events we did book a couple of named speakers, but they were not the focus of the conferences. The idea was that all who attended were contributors and practitioners. Everyone who wanted to come to the conference was invited to submit some background and part of their (communities) story. This was distributed to everyone before the conference, so we all knew something of one another. The conference was open to non-practitioners too (although they had a lower booking priority), but they too had to share what they were interested in learning and sharing.

From those submissions we asked some people if they would be willing to present something in more detail. Only 10 minutes or so. From that we facilitated conversations and reflections. Some of these sessions we broke into smaller groups with particular focus: Youth, Mixed Economy, Older Folks. These groups too were places to discuss and share because fundamentally everyone was a contributor.  Interestingly we never had a problem with gender balance in terms of speakers and leadership. It was a non-issue.

And yes, the Greek concept of symposium also came into play as we enjoyed social time too. Even key contributors were not kept from others.

The Fresh Expressions pilgrimage to Coventry worked along the same lines - although the medium was worship rather than talks. The New Monasticism symposia have worked in a slightly more academic way. The Alt.Worship gatherings 15 years ago worked this way too.

Greenbelt has worked a little like this, UK Emergents have contributed worship, short talks, panels and discussions - although this year many of us have felt this aspect was lacking. So again the question is - do we need a new space for UK Emergents or do we need to propose to Greenbelt that we are more intentional about it?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Where are all the UK based Emergent Speakers?

So @vahva asks - where are all the Brit speakers? To which Tim responds:
So where are we now? Surely some of us who came through post-evangelicalism and alt-worship 20 years ago have or had something to say. After all this website has been running since July 2003 - have a look. And what happened 10 years before this website still exists on WorshipCafe. It all looks very familiar if you dig through it. Over the years I have shared these ideas with others - mostly through symposia and forums and actual worship. None of us have become Christian celebrities.

Whilst drifting off to sleep at Greenbelt this year I overheard a conversation on the path: the words 'Power Mad Bishops' hung in the night air - which made me smile at an event so focussed on Christian celebrity. Because Bishop's have very little actual power, and are seldom listened to. UK Emergents have taken the same path. Where are we?

Running Parishes.

We are Vicars, busy, embedded in community, satisfied with double digits gathered souls rather than Greenbelt podiums. Not only that most of us are Anglo-Catholic, and not really very liberal apart from on gender and sexuality, and some of us are a teeny bit charismatic, or have at least made peace. And mostly I suspect that what we are doing is working.

I get the feeling that makes some people a little bit uncomfortable. Like C.S.Lewis in the Pilgrims Regress having to give in to Old Mother Kirk.

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.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Doors Were Shut

The questions. What to wear, Will I fit in?

Your friends encourage you … ‘you will be fine’. Hair, shoes, make-up – that top – no the other one.

Will I like the music?

You arrive, there is short queue … and so the waiting. And then you are at the doors – guarded .. the doors are shut. You are looked up and down …

Deep breath. You are okay.

And the doors are shut behind you. – you are in .. you are welcomed …

And the music …

Well it’s probably best not to talk about the music.

And I have to say … I’m not sure if I am describing my first experience of a Goth club – or my first experiences of Church.

If you’ve never been to Whitby, or Slimelight, or another alternative or Goth club then the experience is hard to describe. The dress code, the door policy – very different to a mainstream club, the door shutting behind you and you enter this space that is somehow safe - somehow you.  Even if, like me, you are something of a weekender rather than a lifestyle Goth.

The alternative scene is a space where I have found you can turn up on your own, and meet people and feel welcome – feel a part. You travel light … well apart from the accessories. And the makeup bag.

And maybe we have all experienced that space – because for many Greenbelt feels like that.

You don’t need much here, to meet, to share, to bond.
Greenbelt. It’s like Whitby with less dressing up … and only slightly more drama amongst the organisers.

And if you are new to Greenbelt, and if you don’t know the Goth scene, then you are not getting the jokes right now and the references are excluding and you don’t feel a part, and the doors may feel shut in your face.

As in the Gospel also - The doors were shut.

Why were the doors shut? Why were the disciples locked away?
The earliest Christians, those first hearers of John’s Gospel would have got the reference right away. Because they had to lock the doors to be a part of the most important thing they did in worship. The sharing of bread and the sharing of wine, the sharing of God body and God blood.

Their worship was misunderstood, they were persecuted, thrown out, suspected, and accused.

And we are here - and the doors open as we do the same.
But elsewhere in the world Christians lock the doors to be a part of what we do. Or are forbidden, murdered, mutilated, crucified even.  As we look on at events in the oldest Christian communities, in Syria, in Iraq we feel powerless. We are all Nazarenes we proclaim, but even that seems a little empty.

In the Gospel, behind the locked doors Christ is present. Jesus comes and stands amongst them. I don’t think the first Christians messed about with spiritual presences or remembrances. No, it was shut doors, bread, wine, offering, prayers and Jesus is here.
And Jesus brings peace. He beats swords into ploughshares. Spears into pruning hooks. And we bring our swords and spears with us tonight. Are they swords and spears to harm others, or are they swords and spears to harm ourselves? Physical, spiritual, emotional, whatever – we all come tonight with weapons. Fully armed.

And the question has to be asked, cannot be avoided, if there were not the swords could there ever be the ploughshares, if we did not come carrying spears could there ever be pruning-hooks. If Adam had not fallen could Christ have risen?
And without our swords and without our spears could Christ have been wounded, his side pierced. Could the flesh have been torn that we eat this night? Could the blood and water poured out, that we drink this night?

And here is Thomas.

Is this Foolhardy Thomas who said to his fellow disciples ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ when Jesus was called to awaken Lazarus from death?

Is this Questioning Thomas who asks ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going? How can we know the way?’ when Christ speaks words of eternal life?

Is this Doubting Thomas who exclaims ‘Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”?
Foolhardy? Questioning? Doubting? Perhaps the first hearers behind doors shut were all three Thomas’ as they gathered around bread and wine. And we are the same. Are we worthy to eat and drink? What does this mean? Is this really … real?
And Jesus responds, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.’

Those wounds, caused by spear and sword, the same spear and sword we carry. We are invited to place our hands inside them, an act more intimate than any other physical union:  To place our hands in another’s wound … a wound that we caused.

That is what we do tonight. In bread and wine we are fully a part of Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross and he still carries the wounds, as we still carry the wounds. Because tonight we bring our swords and spears to be transformed, but even afterwards we will know that they were once items of hurt, of harm, of destruction.

And still He says come. Be a part.

Foolhardy we may come, questioning we may come, doubting we may come, and in Body and Blood Christ meets with us, in intimacy and self-offering, in peace and sacrifice.
Jesus says to us this night:

“Do not doubt but believe!”

And in taking the bread and wine we lay down our weapons to be beaten anew, and respond with Thomas.

“My Lord and my God!”


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Greenbelt 2014

I am off to Greenbelt shortly, and very much looking forward to preaching at the Goth Eucharist this year. Don't let us being in a youth venue put you off.

As usual please say hello if you see me. I may not recognise you if your twitter avatar is a chicken and your I.D. is not your name. Explain clearly to me who you are with hand actions if required.

Speaking of names I will be trying to see people I have never heard of (as usual) this year. I continue to be suspicious of Christian celebrity and an advocate of symposia where all contribute. I will be argueing for this passionately from the contributors hospitality area with a charged phone and a free hot drink (if such a thing exists this year).

However I would far rather be talking about passionate, inclusive, charismatic (anglo) catholic life and mission. So grab me. DM me. Text me.

I will be the one in skinny jeans. And red hair.