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Greenbelt: worship

18 December 2006

by Jonny Baker

Inspiring: members of the Iona Community and friends leading worship at the main communion service at Greenbelt this year

Inspiring: members of the Iona Community and friends leading worship at the main communion service at Greenbelt this year

THERE ARE certain things you can guarantee at Greenbelt: it will rain at some point in the weekend; someone on the campsite will shout “Oggi, Oggi, Oggi!” at 3 a.m.; you will be filled with wonder at something unexpected during the festival; you will eventually give in to the tempting smell of fresh doughnuts; and there will be some inspiring worship led by the Iona Community.

Over the past 50 years, the Church in the UK has been privileged to experience several renewing worship movements. There have been several common features of these movements: they have something fresh and vital about their worship — whether it is through liturgies that engage, or through a flow of new songs; the initial creativity in worship comes out of a community or group, and has a real authenticity about it; a small group of creative and inspiring individuals have been at the heart of the movement; other people have travelled to experience the movement, or have encountered it at festivals, and the community has published or circulated its songs and liturgies to a wider audience.

These factors would be true, for example, of charismatic renewal in the Seventies: Taizé, the Northumbria Community, Soul Survivor, alternative worship, and the Iona Community.

This last has had an amazing impact on Anglican churches. Perhaps the prayers and liturgies in the Wee Worship book, along with some of the songs introduced by John Bell, caught people’s attention initially — along with the use of recognisable liturgical formats. But, whatever it was, virtually every Church of England church I can think of has used some prayers, liturgies, or songs from this creative community.

The liturgies and songs have a blend of passion for justice, peace, and care for creation, and a gritty, earthy realism and honesty about life’s struggles, combined with a strong hope in God and God’s coming Kingdom. There is a particular concern for those on the edges to be welcomed and included, and there is a gentle encouragement for everyone to participate in worship — often with creative rituals connected with the rhythms of the church year. The output, through Wild Goose publications, has been prolific.

Nicola Slee was a speaker at Greenbelt last summer, and, along with Rosie Miles, has compiled Wild Goose’s latest anthology Doing December Differently. If you are looking for creative poems, prayers, and ideas for future Advents, this is a wonderful resource. It has that blend of struggle from people who find Christmas difficult, with creative ideas for celebrating Advent, combined with a real earthed hope of the coming of God into the world.

I think the reason Iona Community are such a feature at Greenbelt is that there is such an overlap in their concerns, spirituality, tone, and artistic endeavour. They are part of the Church’s diversity, and a gift from God. No doubt they will be back at Greenbelt next summer.


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