When I arrived at Greenbelt yesterday morning I had a choice: were we talking wellies here or sturdy walking boots? The sun was shining and the site was still fairly fresh – how bad could it get I thought, as I opted for the boots. Bad move. A monsoon-like downpour at lunchtime (making my session with the young people in The Shed almost inaudible) turned the lovely Cheltenham Racecourse into a swamp. My next bad move was trying to get over to the Big Top for Goan Fish Curry (surely the highlight of Greenbelt each year?). As I sank shin-deep into the mud; felt my back soak through with rain and my boots fill up, I thought longingly of the wellies sitting smugly in my car…
But who cares? What’s a festival for after all? Sod the rain and the mud I say – Greenbelt was fantastic. Where else would you get Frank Skinner, Tom Wright, Peter Tatchell, Tony Campolo and Nitin Sawhney all in one place?
For me, one of the most overwhelming (and exhausting) things was constantly bumping into people I knew: from former to current work colleagues, from allotment friends to pig cooperative members, from my eldest daughter’s godmother to my doctoral Second Supervisor, from church friends to those I hadn’t seen for years and friends I’ve only met on FaceBook and Twitter… the list goes on. And overwhelming is the right word. At one point (I kid you not), I sat in a cubicle in the ladies’ toilets and thought, ‘good grief, at least here I won’t meet anyone I know’! It was simply wonderful seeing so many lovely people, all in the one place.
My session seemed really popular too – in fact it was crammed, with people sitting on the floor around me and even on the windowsills at the back. It’s interesting to me to see this because I’ve tweaked the brief that I speak on when events ask me to provide my own title. Up till recently I’ve made the seminars quite specifically environmental and, to be honest, they’re never very popular! But now, largely thanks to what my thoughts have been focusing on doing my doctoral thesis, I’ve changed the emphasis to focus more on how we live well as Christians in consumer society. Of course, much of the material is the same, but this different angle seems to be scratching where people are itching, at least if numbers at Greenbelt and New Horizons is anything to go by. Clearly there is a real need to think through and help people work out how we follow Jesus well in our contemporary society.
On a different note, the other thing that struck me was that person after person in the session I did with the young people said that they’d been put off the subject of climate change by their school, because it’s focused on so much (particularly in Geography) and is generally talked about by ‘boring people’ (ie teachers!). This really isn’t my area of expertise, but my heart grew gradually heavier as I encountered a bunch of young people, from year 9 upwards, who knew all the details about climate change but had been utterly turned off doing anything about it because of how it had been presented to them at school. Clearly there’s a challenge here.
So, I arrived back home late last night, wet but happy to have encountered the magic of Greenbelt once again. Today I hear they’re getting out the sunscreen. Me, envious?
(photo courtesy of Elaine Duigenan)