In Friday's "Singing the Mystery - Hildegard of
Bingen", the composer June Boyce-Tillman assumed the
character of Hildegard, the 12th-century mystic, composer, writer,
and artist, to share her story, blending the musical compositions
of both women to demonstrate the relevance of Hildegard's ancient
theology and religious practice to the present day.
Hildegard's visual art illuminated skilfully the Greenbelt
themes of ecology and the elements. Boyce-Tillman presided with a
lightness of touch embodying Hildegard's image of the disciple as a
feather on the breath of God.
The audience willingly re-enacted her similarly dramatic concept
of God's love as a hug which kisses the world, as they
enthusiastically shared the embrace of peace with one another in
"Beer and Benediction", in the annexe of the
beer tent, "The Upper Room", was disappointing. Liturgical
ministers appeared initially like irresponsible children let loose
in the vestry, recordings didn't play properly, and loud music from
the pub next door intruded, prompting giggles.
The service was heavy on content, but turned out to be much less
than the sum of its parts. The ministers stood in a circle at the
front moving swiftly from unfamiliar prayer to little-known
response, dividing the congregation into those in the know who were
clearly revelling in the experience, and those who had no way of
working out what was going on.
By contrast, café-style discussion worked exceptionally well in
this small venue. Chris Powell and Rachel Melville-Thomas hosted a
free flow of contributions about psychology, with Chris Fetch and
Richard Larn. The conversations ranged wide and free: conspiracy
theory, psychological patterns, control, meaning, conscious and
unconscious thought, body shape and behaviour, the process of
individual and collective change, peer pressure, medicating mental
ill-health, pharmaceutical research, mistrust of institutions. . .
It's amazing what a few drinks will do.
Andy Flannagan, a songwriter, worship-leader,
and head of the Christian Socialist Movement, started with a filmed
monologue of the rich young ruler which flowed seamlessly into an
act of confession, asking the audience to take out their phones and
wallets, and those things that separated them from God, and leave
them on the floor for this worship time.
The folk-rock worship flowed seamlessly from song to song, with
reinterpretations of older songs ("Father God, I wonder") alongside
new songs, proving it's how you play the songs, not their age, that
can hinder people's walk with God. A second monologue, of the woman
at the well, was just as impressive as the first, with a different
challenge: to take water to someone you didn't know. A politically
motivated credial statement made some of the audience
uncomfortable, but this was righted by a powerful prayer by Mother
Teresa. This was an act of worship that crossed boundaries and took
people in to a new place.
Ikon were at Greenbelt this year. Ikon were not
at Greenbelt this year. . . Keen as ever to challenge themselves as
well as their audience, all but a couple of Ikon's members stayed
in Belfast, and appeared at the Absence/Presence service
Even when three audience members were needed as "volunteers",
they were chosen randomly from those who followed a pre-service
instruction to text Ikon, and were given their instructions in a
The service asked whether we could ever really know other
people, however close we were to them, or even whether we could
know all of our "other selves".
A repeated refrain was "nothing works". Unfortunately, this was
only too literally true of the technology. It may or may not have
been deliberate that menus, windows, and cursors could be seen on
the projection screens (with Ikon it is hard to tell), but the
continual breaks in live Skype transmissions meant that a
thought-provoking concept was imperfectly realised.
On Sunday morning, BBC Radio 4's Sunday Worship was
broadcast from the festival at 8.10 a.m. Dr Paula Gooder preached;
the Revd Richard Coles and John Bell read, and the Revd Dr Kate
Coleman said the prayers.
At 10.30 a.m., the Greenbelt Communion service
took place on the mainstage. There was a response to criticism that
last year's service had not been sufficiently all-age: so there
were bubble-blowing, Fischy Music songs, and a specific task for
children in the eucharistic groups.
There would have been more participation in processions, had the
area immediately in front of the mainstage not been turned into a
swamp by the previous day's rain.
Including new songs meant a song practice before the service
could start; unlike previous years, though, the songs were so
catchy the congregation picked them up quickly and sang with
Some of that enthusiasm was lost in the wordy bits of the
communion, but there was plenty of visual material to enjoy, and
the sun was shining. And the now established practice of doing
communion in loose groups of 20 worked well.
And the tone was right, helped by a ceilidh atmosphere. So, when
sunflower seeds were handed round at the end, the symbolism was
undercut by a confession from the celebrant that they were, in
fact, roasted and salted, so probably not much good for
When even the sound check sounds divine, you know you are in for
a treat. The short turn-round at the Taizé
service, on Sunday night, meant that the dozen or so
singers, and their accompanying musicians, were not quite ready as
Centaur filled up, and we were treated to some soaring
unaccompanied solos in place of the normal "testing, 1, 2, 3".
As is traditional for Taizé, the ecumenical community in France,
the chants were in several languages: Latin, English, French, and
Italian. Asked to join in the Lord's Prayer "in our own language",
the congregation responded with a combination of old and new
A group of singers, accompanied by musicians, sung chants, such
as "I am sure I shall see", and "Veni Sancte Spiritus"
(Come, Holy Spirit). There were readings from Psalm 146 and Luke 4,
and ten minutes of silence.
A moment of incongruity came towards the end when the keyboard
player accidentally switched on the drum machine for a few seconds.
However, this brief moment of levity did little to disrupt the
sense of God's presence that permeated the venue.
In "Sacramental charismania", the alternative worship groups
Molten Meditation and Soul Circus
presented clips from popular films, recorded interviews, adverts,
and TV programmes, as snapshots of the Charismatic movement in
celebration and crisis.
Images of Christ blurred and crystallised on the screens as
Robin, Molten Meditation's long-term minister, summarised his
personal struggle accepting valid criticism of the charismatic
movement he evidently loves.
Refreshingly simple worship followed with symbols, song and a
statement of faith formed of phrases suggested by participants.
This service, designed for one group of Christians, animated a much
broader audience to wonder about the way forward for worship.
In a Mad Hatter's tea party of their own, the URC's
UnReCognised team dressed as characters from
Alice in Wonderland, and the words of Lewis Carroll were
juxtaposed with the words of John the Evangelist, while scones,
cream, and jam were served on the Village Green.
It was made clear that all was a prayer, and a recognition of
the presence of Christ - sharing food and drink, conversation,
sitting together. So, having said that, it seemed superfluous to
bless a separate batch of scones and juice for communion.
Informal, but not inappropriate in a year when the whole country
has enjoyed street parties and processions, the atmosphere was
convivial, the company pleasant, and the concept intriguing; and
the leaders made it work as outdoor community worship.