Summer festivals as a Christian teenager always meant something different to me than it did to my friends. While they geared up for Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, we’d be digging out the tent for Spring Harvest, CreationFest, and of course, Soul Survivor.
Each year, I’d look forward to my fix of big top meetings and intense worship time, and the tingly feeling you’d get when you looked around at the thousands of others singing too. All there together, arms raised in unison, belonging to something bigger.
But if I’m honest, I’d always worry a little, worry that I didn’t belong. The massive youth groups that everyone else seemed to be part of intimidated me, I’d worry that I wasn’t cool enough to be there. When other people cried and shook, or had intense experiences of God, I’d worry that I wasn’t spiritual enough to be there. And when other people told of their miraculous healings, prophetic words and visions, I’d worry that I was too cynical deep down to be there.
I’ve gained a huge amount in my walk with God from Christian conferences and Bible weeks. But now my summer festival, my spiritual home, is a very different kind of gathering. A place where its impossible not to belong. A place where a visitor from Mars would be a welcome part of the family.
Greenbelt is a very special place.
In some senses, there’s a lot less ‘togetherness’ than your typical Christian event. The question: “What time is the main meeting?” makes no sense, and there are as many different itineraries as there are festival-goers. No two people have the same experience. While I’m tapping my toes to the legendary and hilarious Folk On, there’ll be plenty of other people making puppets, debating the news, and discovering the historical Judas – yep, I did mean Judas.
It’s not the similarity of the people that provides a sense of belonging either. Over the course of the weekend, I expect to bump into friends from my old conservative church, meet up with new friends from the LGBT group Diverse Church, run a workshop for a bunch of teenagers, have a drink with colleagues and sit down for dinner with my step-grandparents. I’ve spent time there with atheists, Muslims and evangelicals, Tory voters and Labour activists. There’s no typical Greenbelter, despite the lefty, liberal stereotype.
It’s not just that there’s something for everyone – it’s more that there’s something for each little bit of me. My inner Bible geek can’t wait to learn from theologian Paula Gooder, whereas my funny bone will be well ticked by comedy favourites like Tony Vino. And my soul will be fed with worship that ranges from monastic morning prayer, through mindfulness meditation, to the ever-popular Beer and Hymns.
I’m preparing to be intrigued, entertained, educated, baffled, amused and offended – would you go to a talk entitled ‘The Jihad of Jesus’? It won’t matter that I’m not very cool – Greenbelt is a great place to be slightly weird. It won’t matter if I don’t feel very spiritual – I’ll discover styles of encountering God that I’ve never even heard of before. It won’t matter if I’m a bit cynical sometimes – the festival is the safest space I know to question anything and everything.
That’s why everyone belongs at Greenbelt. You can’t not. It’s for the freaks and the dreamers, the fashionable and the frumpy, the optimists and the doubters. As political activist Owen Jones put it, Greenbelt “lifts the hearts of all of us who believe in a better world”.
So if you’ve not made any bank holiday weekend plans, throw caution to the wind and come along. Tweet me and I’ll introduce you to the Tiny Tea Tent. You’ll be welcome at Greenbelt – whoever you are.