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Greenbelt 2013 - Life begins...

30 August 2013

Stefan Matzler

Beer and Hymns

Beer and Hymns

The best gifts are ones you share with others. Greenbelt celebrated its 40th birthday in the way that it has marked every year since 1974, by inviting an increasingly diverse group of artists, theologians, musicians, and activists to share gifts forged in thought, practice, and prayer. Greenbelters, in their turn, brought their willingness to learn and be changed, listening out for the word of God in its many astonishing forms. What other festival would deliver such huge and attentive audiences for a US theologian in her mid-60s and a slam poet in his early-20s, would stretch a venue to accom­modate those who want to try sacred harp singing, or have to turn scores of people away from a Les Mis. mass? 

This extended review has been produced by a hard-working band of Church Times staff and Greenbelt volunteers, another example of the partnership that has existed between the paper and the festival for the past 12 years. The object is to capture some of the extraordinary outpouring of talent that occurred in Cheltenham, pass on some of the brighter ideas and stories, and encourage more people to sample Greenbelt for themselves. 

Paul Handley Editor, Church Times  
Beccie D'Cunha Greenbelt CEO

DESPITE what our children tell us, 40 is not old. Of course, festival years are not the same as human years. The need for continual reinvention in order to attract a new audience keeps you young, even as sleep deprivation makes you feel your age.

Longevity does, though, bring with it a wealth of experience, which means that the organisers of this year's festival were able to cope pretty successfully with the geographical constraints placed upon them. The middle of the racecourse at Cheltenham is still recovering from the quagmire caused by torrential rain during last year's festival. In addition, there was the demolition work in preparation for a new stand. This meant that the site this year was long and thin. One advantage was that the Jesus Arms beer tent was pitched near the main stage and the big top (which, for the return of Beer and Hymns, miraculously found itself inside the licensed area).

The disadvantage was that there was a shortage of middle-sized venues, so that several hundred people were turned away from some of the most popular speakers and events, such as one of Barbara Brown Taylor's talks, and the Les Mis mass.

It seemed that even years of experience were not enough to predict the large crowds attracted by even the most academically challenging theologians, or the simplest acts of worship. Media figures such as Milton Jones, Clare Balding, and Richard Coles drew some of the biggest crowds, but so, too, did a host of academics and writers.

Crowd control, and disappointed queuers might, however, prove to be minor inconveniences compared with next year. Paul Northup, the festival's creative director, announced from the stage during the Sunday morning eucharist that, because of the racecourse development work, Greenbelt was in serious discussions about how much of the site they might be able to use next year.

The news was not allowed to dampen the party atmosphere, however. There was a Greenbelt film, a disco, the return of some old favourites among the speakers and bands - and even some retro worship songs during the main eucharist.

The sun did not show up with any enthusiasm until Sunday afternoon, but any grumbles about the grey weather were muted by news of monsoons elsewhere in the country. As always, though, the exciting and varied programme (and the wealth of indoor venues at the Cheltenham site) meant that the spiritual temperature remained high.


On Friday evening, writer Pete Rollins compared Christianity to the three stages of a magic trick in the filmThe Prestige: the pledge, as the magician says he will make a coin disappear; the turn, as it does; and the prestige, as it reappears.

For Rollins, the idea that there is something - possessions, being a better Christian, or God himself -that can give us certainty and satis­faction is dead. Instead, the pledge of Christianity is to free us from this fantasy. The turn is in the cruci­fixion, as the temple veil is ripped open, showing the holy of holies empty - God is not there. But the prestige is that this frees us to find the sacred in everything, living as if the world is meaningful.

On Monday morning - con­tinuing his theme of how radical theology can help people come to terms with their own brokenness, so that they can accept the brokenness of others - Pete Rollins turned his attention to liberal and progressive churches. 

He said that, while their con­gregations intellectually accept their doubts, they still enact the same beliefs in sermons and hymns: "We outsource our fundamentalism to our pastors and worship leaders, even though we know they are no better than us".

A church with a radical theology would incorporate a recognition of this doubt and lack into its liturgies, allowing the community to find that it is the body of Christ itself, and to cope with its failings together.

Barbara Brown Taylor, the US author and Episcopalian priest, spoke on a similar theme. She began her trilogy of talks about the misuse of language by confessing that, for years, she had fallen into contrast­ing the Church with "the world". The effect of such dualism in her thinking, and in that of many Chris­tians, was to create a false op­­position (good and evil, light and dark, spirit and flesh, etc).

As a result, she said, there was so much in life that had been rejected on bogus grounds. Her mission now was to point out the sacred­ness of the ordinary, what she called "plain-clothed" sacraments, or sacraments "waiting to happen", such as water, or bread, even when it's just a sandwich at your desk.

Her text was about the man who found treasure in a field. Scripture did not say that the man dug the treasure up: "the whole field became the treasure."

From Augustine's theory of origi­nal sin to the Protestant suspicion of physical pleasure, human beings have regarded the body with sus­picion and shame, Taylor said in her second talk on Saturday morning.

Yet: "There is not a single thing we know about God that did not come first to us through the body." Through the pain of sickness and the bliss of slipping into a hot bath, God speaks to us. And Jesus, she reminded us, did not talk in ab­­stracts, but told stories about sheep, wolves, mustard seeds, and soil. 

She des­­­­cribed the eagerness with which a group of church leaders obeyed her instruction to show each other a scar. Before she knew it, clothes had been removed and scars compared. 

The intellectualisation of faith was one of the great dangers of the age, she warned, leaving us "as dry as dust".

Anyone expecting a benign intro­duction to the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, on Friday evening would have been quickly disillu­sioned by Mark Braverman's rally­ing cry to the global Church to stand alongside what he sees as the "inevitable Palestinian liberation".

"Pray for us," he said, "but do not allow us to continue to build our own prison; all the people in the region deserve better than our current situation."  

Living up to his name, Braver­man was unafraid to compare the cause to the anti-apartheid and the American Civil Rights movements of the 20th century, as well as tackling monolithic issues such as post-Holo­caust interfaith relations, Zionist ideology, and Jesus's gospel model for anti-occupation resist­ance.

Speaking with authority and com­­­pas­sion as a Jewish American with­ deep family roots in the Holy Land, Braverman sought to reclaim the long Jewish traditions of solidarity, libera­tion, and justice.

In "God, Perhaps", the philo­sopher-theologian John Caputo looked first at the ordinary meaning of "per­haps", in the context of whether a statement is true or false. Here, it is an indecisive and timid word. How­ever, in the context of what he terms "the event"; some­thing which could have unfore­seeable transforming fu­­ture con­sequences, "perhaps" be­­comes a word of hope, a claim that the impossible might actually happen.

Then talking of God, he says this becomes "the weak force of a trem­bling possibility that is im­­possible". It speaks of a God who is a call rather than a protector: "not God Almighty, but the God who might be". He questioned the validity of a "strong theology" of creeds and dog­mas, and argued for a "weak" theo­logy, one that was more tentative.

Caputo's Saturday-after­noon talk "Can this radical theo­logy live in the churches?" was moved, at the last minute, because of a fire in the original venue. A patient crowd filed on to the grass of Cheltenham's winners' enclosure, and bent their minds to the speaker's challenging theology.

He carefully deconstructed his own title, word by word, suggesting that radical theo­logy should be based on a "groundless ground", because "we don't want anything to be safe". Theology has a tendency to make things too clear, he said. God, however, "can't be contained by propositions", and has to be ex­­pressed in parables, poetry, and story.

Radical theology, he maintained, worked most effectively on "the margins", it should be a destabil­ising force, haunting the Church "like a spook". Christianity is "a deed", he said, and should jump from its credal rails, from facile "belief" to a deeper "faith".

Katharine Sarah Moody, re­­search associate in the department of philo­sophy at the University of Liverpool, was billed as talking about Paul; was trailed at the previous two talks as critiquing Rollins and Caputo; but actually gave an introduction to other radical theologians, particularly Slavoj Zizek.

For Zizek, when Paul says "there is neither Jew nor Gentile", he is calling for a universal collective, breaking free of a law that causes the sin it condemns, and reintro­ducing solidarity and economics into a politics that has become rooted in disparate communitarian identities (for example, environ­mental activists, LGBT, etc.).

Moody noted that Zizek is cri­ticised for not giving sufficient prac­tical outworkings of his theology, but defended him on the grounds that this was a "second order" theo­logy, which reflected on how churches worked out their "first order" confessional theologies in practice.

John Bell, a Church of Scotland minister and a member of the Iona Community, is a Greenbelt regular, largely on account of his marvellous storytelling.

For much of the life of the Church, his would not have been such a rare gift. The title of his first talk, "Reading the Bible is bad for your faith", focused on that first word. Without the written word, the Bible was treated as part of the family history. People were en­­couraged to memorise the stories, and naturally they would change with retelling.

The damage caused by the written word was that it turned biblical learning into an intellectual pursuit; and that passages were read out of context, and thus became doctrine when they were originally just a matter of temporary ex­­pedient.B ell took part in the first of Greenbelt's debates, mused on "What's the purpose of marriage?" It was rather a con­sensual affair: the other panellists were both married, and Bell agreed that, although it is impos­sible to erect a theology of matri­mony using scripture (which is, at best, ambiguous about the subject, he said), marriage was at least useful as a "socially and politically recog­nised relationship of commitment which shows that love is more than a feeling".

Psychotherapist Chris Powell argued that marriage enables the fulfilment of fundamental human needs: the craving for strong attach­ments and exclusive relationship.

However, the restrictive nature of marriage concerned feminist scholar Marika Rose; she argued that the nuptial state not only perpetuates social and gender inequality, but breaks society down into small, exclusive units - the kind that Jesus spoke against when he envisioned the radically inclusive community that would become the Church.

On Saturday morning, Aus­tralian social activist Dave Andrews shared the story of his life so far with such humility and humanity that his talk seemed more like listen­ing to an uncle recounting his memoirs. 

Dave and his wife Ange sold almost all their possessions to tend "junkies" in Afghanistan, and then fled to India at the outbreak of war. On the way, their remaining pos­sessions were stolen, and they were forced to embrace what he called "involuntary poverty". In India they worked with HIV suffer­ers and challenged the government over their care. On settling back in Australia - to live the same lifestyle of serving the lost and the broken - they found that it was often their friends and family who were most resistant.

Despite the temptation to see Andrews' life as a re­s­umé of extra­ordinary action, his gentle manner and honest self-reflection were a reminder that everyone is called to nothing less than life in all its full­ness. 

On "Life begins . . . after death", on Saturday morning, Ibrahim Mogra, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral David Ison, and rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand gave, respectively, their Muslim, Christian, and Jewish views of heaven and hell.

For Mogra, heaven and hell were physical realities One's actions in life determined one's destination in death. However, this was subject to the potential for God to be merciful, as illustrated in the writings of Islamic tradition.

Ison believed in an eventual bodily resurrection rather than in an immediate spiritual heaven, and that only those who refused God's invitation to it would remain in hell. What mattered was the relationship we had with God now, which would continue in eternity.

Boyd Gelfand explained that, while Judaism believed in an afterlife, it had no fixed concept of it; it was content to leave that to God and did not normally speculate about it. In particular, the afterlife was not used in Judaism as an incentive to be righteous in this world.

From the master of African Blues, Ali Farka Touré, to an interpreter of teenage angst in Indonesia, via an all-women's choir in Bosnia, Abdul-Rehman Malik's tour of music, in his talk "Looking for Allah at 33 revolutions per minute," was a fascinating insight into how differ­ent Muslim cultures give voice to a desire for God. Passionate, learned, and funny, he played five tracks, each illuminating an attribute of God.

He described the "profound para­dox" whereby God is both separate, unknowable, and "closer than our own jugular vein", before outlining, with reference to the music, how humans relate to the divine at­­tributes. God is Lord of all, but we are masters of our own bodies; God is merciful, and so must we be. Against a "maelstrom" of Islamo­phobia, vio­lence, and intolerance, music is enabling women in Bosnia to help the country reawaken spiritually; while in Indonesia a struggle between extremism and normative Islam is being played out through popular culture.  

A talks session on Saturday morn­ing, entitled "How they stole football from the people - and how we can steal it back," looked de­signed to appeal to the committed, opinionated football fan. Sadly, it didn't quite live up to its allure. The first 50 minutes of the talk, with Kevin Rye and Sam Tomlin from Supporters Direct, and Seb White from the think-tank CentreForum, were dominated by statements by the panellists, and it was only in the last ten minutes, that it was given back to the people.

Then, a genuine debate ensued over the pros and cons of a wage cap, and whether we could afford to lose star players from the premier­ship as a result. 

The US theologian and foreign-affairs activist Jim Wallis filled a venue on Saturday morning, talking about his vision for a new move­ment for change in America, based upon an understanding of the "common good". 

According to Wallis, when Chris­tians realise that this means "all kids are our kids", then a momentum for change begins - and this is already having an impact in the political arena, he said. 

Wallis concluded with a question that must be easy to answer: "What works better? Drones, or loving your neighbour as your­self?"

Adrian Plass held little back in his Saturday-morning session,  "The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, aged 62¾", while revealing that his first diary, written in the mid-'80s, was actually a result of his breakdown. His ultimate conclusion at the time? That, maybe, God was nice. 

He delighted the crowd by reading from both his first two diaries, and his latest one (Adrian Plass and the Church Weekend), having to pause frequently for the hearty laughing to cease, and tears to be wiped from faces, before being able to continue. 

Plass performed his earlier, larger session his wife Brigit, who adds a wry, feminine slant on the foibles of Christian life. Where, once Charismatic Christians were the butt of his humour, attention was now focused on those who divided the world between those "like us" and those "in error", i.e. everybody else.

Beginning his layman's guide to Karl Marx with a quiz to debunk several myths about the revolu­tionary thinker, Simon Mouatt, senior lecturer in economics at Southampton Solent University, argued that much could be learnt from Marx's economic method as well as from his socio-political theories.

Marx's hypothesis that capitalism always veers towards dwindling profitability and ultimate  crisis has been lent weight by the recent era of rampant "financialisation", which led to the global economic crash. Marx's solutions were now deemed by many to be equally relevant, he said. 

Rather than superficial measures to impose state regulation on the banks, he advised that we should learn from Marx's call to dismantle the very structures of a system that perpetu­ates injustice; social inequalities which, Mouatt was quick to point out, the Church has done very little to confront. 

As a writer and blogger on tech­nology, religion and feminism, Vicky Beeching is a spirited advo­cate for social media. Acknow­ledging the tendency to divide life into the spiritual and the secular, she spoke about how recent technology has placed the virtual realm at the bottom of the spiritual pecking order.

After countering negative as­­sump­tions about social networking and online com­munication - and touching on the central issue with technology: that it is a tool, and is inert; we, the users, are the problem or the solution - she was per­suasive on the need for the Church to engage with the digital genera­tion, even to get excited and lead the way in finding the best way to use new services.

Mohammed Ansar's "What have the Muslims ever done for us?" was filled to capacity on Saturday lunchtime, in which he stated there was "an incredible amount of ignorance about Islam" in the UK.

The theologian and lecturer on Islam in Britain talked of the Muslims who have in­­fluenced our culture and sciences, but go uncredited in our history books, along with the reality of women's status in Islam, and raising children in Islam.

Ansar addressed a few misconceptions, the biggest of which, he said, was that "we are seen as a problem," adding: "I can do no greater injustice than judge Christianity by the actions of Christians."

Approaching this provoking issue with humour and fact, he allowed the audience to ask questions, restricting his answers to "Tweet-­size" only. He urged those who "served the com­munity" to help bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians in their own patch.

Pip Wilson has spent many years working with inner-city gangs and disadvantaged youth, combating emotional deprivation in young people. In his Saturday-afternoon workshop, "Making beau­tiful", he broke the audience into groups to discuss their strengths and weaknesses, self-image, and emotional intelligence. 

Wilson's aim was that people should accept themselves in their imperfections, and see themselves "not as a human being, but a human becoming", constantly changing and growing. His staccato Lancas­trian style is affirmative, peppered with his trademark aphor­isms. Brits are not used to being told "You are a beautiful human person," especially by a complete stranger, but there is a chance that his memorable sayings can help people learn to get in touch with their beautiful souls. 

The Archbishops' Missioner and Team Leader of Fresh Expressions, Bishop Graham Cray, spoke on Saturday afternoon on the kind of Church that is emerging from the Fresh Expressions movement. 

He was at pains to make clear that new expressions of Church were not intended to replace traditional forms but "to touch people who have not been touched by the historic Church". He rejected franchise forms of church-planting. Rather, it was necessary to "test the soil" and discern what God was doing in a particular place and to join in. How would Jesus take on flesh and blood here? should be the question at the forefront of incarnationally-minded church planters.

Those who become involved in Fresh Expressions of church - many of whom are not inclined "to respond to requests to keep the wretched show on the road" - find that they are evangelised in the very process, Cray said. "They discover new depths of dis­cipleship. Further riches of Christ are re­­vealed." Churches for them are not con­cerned with "dumping the past and finding something new and trendy to do": they en­­gage in spiritual disciplines and a shared a rule of life. It was also vital that new forms of church were connected to other churches. "We don't want solitary, confined churches."

On Saturday afternoon, an academic and a singer-songwriter combined to bring to life to a 160-year-old English protest move­ment. The singer Garth Hewitt, had discovered (through the pages of the Church Times) that Mike Sanders, from Manchester University, had found the one remaining copy of
a Chartist hymnbook (News. 14 January 2011). 

In the 1840s, the Chartist move­ment trum­peted a handful of very reasonable electoral reforms, which were met by the deaf ears of the establishment. Largely decried by Church leaders, the Chartists' faith in a God of justice was none the less unwavering, and they began, and ended, all their meetings with their own crusading hymns.

Hewitt met Sanders and set a number of the hymns to music. These he performed at the festival with a first-class folk ensemble - the songs interspersed with know­ledgeable contributions by Sanders, who set the stirring music in its context. It was an eye-opening pil­grimage to a fascinating past.

"Time for Action", a British Christian re­­sponse to the Kairos Palestine call of 2009, was launched at Greenbelt on Sunday, while other Christians sympathetic to Israel pro­tested outside the race­course gates.

Kairos means "a critical moment in time", and was used by leading Palestinian Chris­tians in 2009, when they called on the worldwide church to support them in the struggle against Israeli occupation. 

Warren Beardsley, convenor of Kairos Britain, which produced the document, said that it was "not an interfaith document, not an anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic document, and not a discussion document". 

It was, instead, a call to direct action, asking British Christians to consider prayerfully the boycott of, divestment from, and economic sanctions against anything pro­duced by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The Roman Catholic theologian Margaret Hebblethwaite brought her encounters with young mothers in Paraguay, where she now lives, into her talk about the motherhood of God, on Sunday afternoon.

Motherhood, in the developing world in particular, is a risky bu­­siness. Ninety per cent of deaths through childbirth are in the developing world, along with 99 per cent of infant deaths: ten million children a year die before the age of five.

The statistics gave a new context to her work on God as a mother, first explored in her 1984 book, which caused a stir through her use of feminine pronouns for God, and an attempt to wrest the concept of motherhood from the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church, where Roman Catholics felt safe with it.

In a session on Sunday afternoon, the founders of Borough Common, a church in south London, talked about their community. Many of them have a background in the Evangelical Church, but these days  "Commoners" deliberately avoid dogma, disagree internally about whether Jesus is the son of God, and are prepared to prioritise "com­munity over content".

Now four years old, the church is based on three principles: church as common property; growing to­­gether spirit­ually and emotionally; and doing good. There are no leaders and no formal membership.

It was clear that this is a reflective community, constantly scrutinising itself. But it was disappointing not to have a longer question-and-answer session, since their approach inev­itably generated enquiry.

Sara Hyde, a criminal (in)justice activist, has been pondering the question of what to do when/if your friend commits a sexual offence, since she faced the dilemma at the age of 16. What was she meant to do as a friend, a woman, a feminist, and a Christian?

In Sunday afternoon's session, the audience was challenged to place themselves on a spectrum as to how much they agreed with statements such as: "I have nothing in common with sexual offenders."

In a sensitive and challenging session, she presented a four-point outline of how we could respond: minding our language; being em­­pathetic in the face of shame; bringing healing; and, ultimately, letting God work in the situation.

In "From investment banker to activist", a talk which was by turns amusing, informative, and inspir­ing, Jeremy Moodey explained how he went from being a failed diplomat and Conservative politician to a successful investment banker. He then gave it all up, in 2009, to become CEO of what was then Biblelands, and is now Embrace.

Since then, he has changed not just the name of the charity, but also its conviction that it "didn't do politics". Moodey was one of the authors of the Kairos Britain report, also launched this year at Greenbelt, and Embrace now includes advo­cacy and campaigning as an im­­portant part of its charitable activity.

Moodey's advice to anyone won­dering if they were in the right job was to carry out an audit of their skills and gifts, and to then ask whether they were doing something with them that they were passionate about.

On Sunday afternoon, a 90-minute debate, "What women (in the Church) want", consisting of two clergy (Rachel Mann and Lucy Winkett), a journalist (Chine Mbubaegbu), and a Ph.D. student at Durham University (Marika Rose) was always going to have a lot to say on the subject of women in the Church. 

The host, Vicky Beeching, quiz­zed the panel on its inspir­ations from scrip­ture and church history, cul­minating in a challenge as to what the panel might say to St Paul if he turned up at the Tiny Tea Tent.

For the audience, it's possible that the language of feminist theology and theologians was overwhelming at times; a general discussion about the issues women face in churches every day might have been more useful to some. 

Nevertheless, the audience pro­vided their own challenging ques­tions, returning again to women bishops, in which Winkett and Mann were keen to emphasise that progress in the issue would not be the key to transforming the Church. Mann asked: "What profiteth the woman for wearing a purple shirt?"

In "Women in dresses", one of the sessions being recorded by gtv for release on its website later in the year, Kate Bottley (whose flash-mob wedding turn was a YouTube hit earlier this summer) chaired an amusing session of anecdotes and jokes on the place of women in the Church. Bottley shared the stage with two other priests, Rachel Rosborough and Sandra Millar, as well as with Katharine Welby, who combines an active blog and Twitter profile with life as the Archbishop of Canterbury's daugh­ter ("I'm sorry, Mum - I think I might be in the news again").

Fr Christopher Jamison, a for­mer abbot of Worth, is a self-confessed religious person ("I have the clothes to prove it") trying to become more spiritual ("it's hard work!").  In Sunday afteroon's talk on "Finding Sanctuary" he began by explaining the left/right brain divide: the left side is analytical, focus­ed, puts things into words. The right side sees a much wider per­spective, and yet cannot form language. 

Sermons and Bible study appeal to our logic and reasoning, but we often neglect the more ruminative right side. Silence allows us mental space to escape words, quiet our inner monologue, and encounter God.

Jamison explained the disciplines of obedience, silence, and humility, drawing from the monastic lifestyle to advise the audience on how to find sanctuary within the busyness of our daily lives.

Jamison's most memorable piece of advice? "Humour keeps us humble. If you ever meet a religious person with no sense of humour, be suspicious".

Artist Bobby Baker's intro­duction for Sunday's "We need to talk about nutters" set the tone for the discussion: "Hi, I'm Bobby with a 'y' and I'm a woman. People often make that mistake."

Baker was warm and funny throughout, but her good humour did not detract from the seriousness of her message: one in four people at any one time are struggling with mental-health issues, and if we are to address this statistic, we need to break the stigma and embarrass­ment surrounding "nutters". 

The noted that after being diag­nosed with cancer she was in­­undated with practical help and messages of support. No such assistance was offered, however, when she was overworked, over­diagnosed, and mentally struggling to stay afloat.

The way forward, in Baker's ex­­perience, is to combine the know­ledge and support of crisis sur­vivors, health professionals, and trusted family and friends.

In "Can white middle-class people be radical?", on Sunday after­noon, Marika Rosegave gave a dense but engaging talk on theology and capitalism. 

After a whistle-stop history of Christian theology and its legacy in the Western world-view, she briefly reviewed the main threads of radical theology, and considered where each of them fails to provide a stable framework for real solutions to society's ills. 

Her message was that the white middle-class, the principal bene­ficiaries of our economy, are com­plicit in economic oppression. Money has taken on a religious vocabulary, transplanted from our heritage of Christian thought; capital­ism is the religion of our age. 

We cannot simply step outside the system, since absconding fails to acknowledge our guilt, and does not challenge the status quo. In the same way, attempting to isolate our­selves from the institutional Church is a lost opportunity to debate and reform from within.

There was standing room only for a Sunday afternoon talk by the Christian writer and activist Symon Hill, who spoke on his new book Digital Revolutions: Activism in the internet age

The Arab Spring, Occupy, and the Uncut movement against tax dodg­ing were just a few of the causes that, he said, had spread rapidly as a result of the internet.

But he cautioned against seeing digital protest as essential, or dis­missing it entirely. Both views made the mistake of seeing the web as exotic and detached.

People who protest use whatever tools are available. Never­theless, Hill told a number of stories about how the "hashtag revolution" had helped various protest movements to spread globally under one banner.

On Sunday afternoon, the journ­al­ist and Church Times columnist Paul Vallely told a packed and enthusiastic audience why he was optimistic about Jorge Mario Bergoglio: Pope Francis to the rest of us.

On researching his biography of the Pope, Vallely had discovered a transformed man, someone who had changed from being a tra­ditionalist, and a scourge of libera­tion theologians, to an "icon of radical humanity". 

This "profound spiritual meta­morphosis", rooted in Bergoglio's remorse for his failure to prevent two fellow Jesuits' being tortured during Argentina's "Dirty War", changed him, Vallely said, into some­one for whom justice for the poor was central, and for whom "pastoral care was more important than dogma."

As a freelance journalist for the BBC, and Bill and Melinda Gates, Bidisha is well-placed to comment on journalism in the digital age. 

Her talk, on Monday morning, was not entirely reassuring. She contended that journalism is no longer a paid profession; it cannot provide the living wage the work deserves. 

Instead, she sees aspiring journ­alists taking a relevant day-job, but writing articles in their spare time. Although a blog is valuable for beginners, she suggests a two-year deadline before upscaling to paid venues. Her advice to budding writers is to find their particular passion, and be rigorous about re­­searching and producing high-quality work. 

In an age where people no longer trust governments, she believes there is still a place for considered essays that display a truly global perspective. At the same time, a backlash against digital media is evident in the popularity of station­ery, and the rise of literary festivals.

L'Arche is an organisation that builds communities made up of people with and without learning difficulties. 

In a discussion on Monday morn­­­­­­ing, two L'Arche members, and the vicar of their parish, explained what it's like to negotiate church, life, and community when you're trying not just to be in­­clusive, but to love each person as an individual, and a blessing.

There were some sad and shock­ing stories of disabled people being sidelined, and some wonder­ful examples of what church can be like when we let go of what we feel things "should" be like, and make space for every member to teach us something. 

The Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, Mark Oakley, was warmly received by a large crowd on Monday morning, as he made a case for same-sex marriage.

Oakley was critical of the House of Bishops' "ironically-called pas­toral statements" concerning same-sex relationships, and the "odd state of affairs when a priest can bless a battleship, or a pet hamster, but not two people who love each other".

The Church should be sup­porting, not opposing, same-sex marriage, because "where love is, God is". Opponents could "fire off. . . biblical bullets, but the truth is you are not treating the children of God equally", he said.

Allowing gay and lesbian people to be included in the sacrament of marriage would complete it, not undermine it, he argued. Further­more, far from the introduction of same-sex marriage making society unstable, "such stable relationships will make it more secure".

Robert Cohen's Monday-lunch­time talk "Confessions of a border-walking, road-crossing, inter-faith­ing Jew", drew the crowds, as the former BBC producer and prolific blogger recounted episodes of his journey, such as sitting in school assembly wondering "is it OK for me to say the Lord's Prayer?"

A practising Jew, Cohen relishes his place at the margins of the traditions in his life (being also married to an Anglican priest), ob­­serving that "Jews have always been the perennial and expert outsiders." 

He also dedicated much of the session to charting his own journey from inherited Zionism to radical criticism of the state of Israel, at­­tempting to rescue "Jewish ethically rooted dissent" from the taboo-strewn Israel-Palestine dis­course.

Author Francis Spufford spoke eloquently and entertainingly on new atheism, and "outing himself" as a Christian. 

Pitched as a study of Christian emotions, his bookUnapolo­geticseeks to broaden the field of debate from an intellectual ding-dong about science and reason, to a discussion that en­­compasses art, imagination, and emotions - the everyday human stuff.

Spufford read aloud his retelling of the parable of the prodigal son; a compelling and sincere reimagining that renders both sons uncom­fortably close to home.  

The questions that followed the talk focused largely on how to handle Dawkins devotees, but to treat Spufford as a Christian writer is to miss the mark. 

It would be a shame if he found himself pigeonholed into popular apologetics when his real genius lies in storytelling.

The founder of the Oasis Trust and Faithworks, Steve Chalke, spoke twice. He told a large crowd on Monday morning, that the UK was "heading into a post-welfare state era". Local authorities were starting to "lose traction", and corporations were taking respon­sibility for running schools and prisons. The only way that services would not end up in the hands of big business was if churches became involved. "We're called to the table, and asked to be involved."

Mr Chalke's church had been granted permission to launch a credit union, and it was involved in running its local park and leisure centre. Such projects were not a distraction from the gospel, but integral to it, he argued.

On Monday afternoon, he answered questions about his open­ness to same-sex relationships. The Baptist authorities were con­sidering disciplinary action, he reported: "Perhaps they should." But public opposition seemed to be more about ensuring funding and stability, he suggested. Many leaders had said privately that they agreed with him.

He told the story of a friend, now 30, whose admission of gay leanings at the age of 13 had lead to years of attempted exorcisms. "At the age of 18, he wasn't an alcoholic, drug-dependent, and suicidal be­­cause he was gay. It was because he had been abused by an Evangelical church."


Sam Lee & Friends are on a mission: to collect and breathe new life into forgotten folk songs and ballads, many from the 1700s and 1800s. 

It mainstage, on Friday night, the sounds of lost spiritual and political protest-songs rubbed shoulders with laments about injustice and oppres­sion - as well as a refreshingly politically-incorrect warning about sleeping around and the risk of herpes, in "The Ballad of George Collins", a 200-year-old Sussex/Hamp­­shire ballad.

With cello, violin, and mandolin parts, among others, it could have sounded antiquated, but with Lee's new arrangements the sound was surprisingly contemporary. A quiet triumph.

From the bluesy swagger of "Willow Tree" to the modern-day sea shanty "James Clark Ross", the partnership of folk heroes Eliza Carthy and Jim Moray proved a formidable one at mainstage, on Friday, following on from Lee.

Individually, their fiddle solos were blistering, but what really boggled the mind was how they played virtuosic licks in unison with an accordion, underpinned by a rhythm section which galloped on apace. 

The 12-strong band was del­iciously versatile: Eliza's vocals sailed over a sumptuous bed of string quartet, and backing har­monies, while the per­cussion and horns gave the energetic groove a country-meets-carnival feel. Pared-down tex­ture enabled songs to bloom from what seemed at first to be two band members absent-mindedly jam-ming, building into a foot-stomp-ing frenzy, with an unpretentious exuberance that made them a joy to watch.

Before a French-led fight-back, two-thirds of Mali was controlled by Islamic rebel groups this year. In these occupied territories, music was banned, forcing the famous Festival in the Desert into exile. The call for "Le Mali tout entier" was amplified by the country's musicians, 45 of whom joined to record a new song "Peace". Among the cast were Amadou & Mariam, perhaps the most recognised Malian musicians in the West. 

In Friday night, on the main­stage, the duo, who met at Mali's Institute for the Young Blind, sang about peace, solidarity, and love, en­­treating the audience to dance and specifically jump, to­­gether. Despite the rain, there were willing dancers within the crowd, some attempting to follow the amazing moves demon­­­strated by the two dancers on stage, who combined nonchalance with effortless grace. Mariam's voice was best in the lower register, while the Afro-blues set gave Amadou plenty of opportunity to show off some highly accom­plished guitar solos. An energetic reminder of the resilience and unifying power of music. 

A number of the founders of Greenbelt used to play in a blues-based gospel outfit called All Things New. At lunchtime on Saturday, the now appropriately-named Fat Band climbed, with slightly less agility, on to mainstage. They stoked up the 40th party, with a great revue of soul, R&B, and bluesy classics.

With Richard Gibbons on bass, Martin Evans (vocals, tambourine) and James Holloway on lead vocals, rigging-climbing and crowd-teasing, they were joined by Holloway's niece, Polly Gibbons, a marvellous jazz vocalist in her own right. 

Despite all the fun, James Hollo­way, a central figure in the festival's formative years, had the final in­­spirational words, telling the au­­dience: words, "Be rebellious, be radical, be relevant."

Andrew Howie, in his first solo appearance at Greenbelt, treated the Performance Café audience to a chilled mix of his new songs and some classics, such as "Change the World" from his time as a member of Calamateur. 

As part of a much appreciated encore, while they waited for the next act, which was delayed, Howie's soulful and thoughtful sound, with the simple combination of voice and guitar, created a seemingly timeless set.

On Saturday afternoon, returning to where it all started was Why?, who began their career playing on the bandstand in 1986 - and who went on to play mainstage with their mix of folk rock, becoming Green­belt favourites.

Their bandstand set acted as a warm-up for their mainstage Sunday performance, and, despite occasion­ally tripping up over the words of their own songs - having not sung them for a few years - the crowd enthusias­tically jigged and sang along. 

Some bands should never reunite; this is not the case for Why?.

Slam poet Harry Baker hosted the "Solas Festival showcase" at the Performance Café on Saturday after­noon, offering a wide selection of performers from Greenbelt's Scot­tish sister festival.

In between acts, he delighted the audience with his own poems, to a roaring response, offering wonderful nuggets of wit in his haikus and puns, such as "I think I'm in love with some wet concrete - it's cement to be!" 

His own set included old fav­ourites such as Dinosaur Love,as well as a Monopoly/One Direction mash-up featuring the very talented Chris Read on guitar and vocals.

Among others, the line-up in­­cluded the dreamy, rhythmic guitar and sweet voice of Rory Butler, and the electric sound of three-piece band Haight-Ashbury, layered with blended female vocals over a solid heartbeat of drums. At first this seemed a little out of place at the usually chilled venue, but it brought a real flavour of the breadth of Solas.

Following Greenbelt legend Garth Hewitt, on Saturday evening, the Performance Café hosted a talent from the new generation: Grace Petrie (Feature, 23 August) and her band the Benefits Culture. Con­tinuing a long tradition of the likes of Hewitt, Petrie's gritty, yet angelic, voice filled the canopied space of the new home of the Per­formance Café with a prophetic voice for the 21st century. Supported by a simple combination of two guitars and drums, this young singer-songwriter from Leicester sang about subjects as varied as politics, relationships, and issues of equality. She delighted the packed venue as much with her warm wit in between songs, as with her clever, sometimes challenging, compositions. It was no surprise to see the standing ovation which finished such a wonderful set.

Finally, Ian Morrison brought an earthy sound, blending guitar, cello, mandolin, recorder, and North­umbrian pipes. This transcendent experience brought the heart of Scotland to Cheltenham.

The a cappella beatbox quintet The Boxettes wowed the Perform­ance Café audience on Saturday with a beautiful evening set. Repeat­ed riffs and simple but effective lyrics added to a rich sound palette, all of which came from nothing more complicated than five voices, and five microphones. 

This was stunning to hear up close - the group had already im­­pressed the mainstage audience, but a smaller venue provided a perfect showcase for their honeyed tones, powerhouse solos, turbo-charged beats and speaker-rattling bass. 

The highlight of the set was a track made up on the spot, inspired by words provided by the audience. It's not every day you hear a potential chart-topper on the theme of "cabbage-butterfly power"!

The London Community Gospel Choir, who got the mainstage crowd moving on Saturday night, are a mighty machine. This may well have been the best performance of the many they have played here. Detractors felt that the slickness of the performance, and the domin­ance of the band over­shadowed the choir, but these were quibbles.

They were certainly crowd pleas­ing - their upfront Christian wit­ness, matching content with power­ful gospel vocal performances, brought many rounds of applause, mid-song. And the choir brought the metaphorical house down with their finale of "Oh Happy Day" - a form of ecstatic utterance.

In Saturday night in the Big Top, Graham Kendrick told a packed audience that his grandmother lived to 105, so he's "not going anywhere". This news was cause for celebration for the crowd, hands in the air, who readily joined in on the "four claps" during "Shine, Jesus, shine" (which is 25 years old this year). Described by oneChurch Timescolleague as "The Magic FM of Christendom", the set was a reminder that he really can write a tune. 

Song after song - "Meek­ness and Majesty", "Servant King", "Knowing You" - was immediately picked up by the crowd. It was moving to sing them alongside those for whom they are old favourites, some with their children, and grandchildren (many sitting on shoulders). 

Confident and chatty, Kendrick's voice remained strong throughout the evening. A couple of new songs were introduced, including one based on the story of the Old Testament character Caleb. The message of "Shine, Jesus, Shine" remained as rele­vant as ever, he said, and the fervour with which the crowd re­­sponded suggested that his songs retain the power to move and in­­spire. 

The Roots stage is open to all-comers, and the quality can be mixed. In this case, on Sunday, 12-year-old Rosa Sargent displayed impressive vocal ability. Backed ably by a schoolfriend on an acoustic guitar, she covered a range of recent pop hits from the likes of Rihanna and Katy Perry. Perhaps such a strong vocal delivery should be expected from the granddaughter of festival founder (and bass player) Richard Gibbons.

There are probably not too many Seventh Day Adventists at Green­belt, but Rick O'Shea more than makes up for it. And at least he was free to play on Sunday.

Coming over like a black Bob Dylan and a white Thomas Dorsey, O'Shea's self-penned songs reflect on life, death, love, hate, and "The hardest love is real, that which is not based upon feelings. . ."

Clearly inspired by Bruce Cock­burn, and with a voice that almost echoes the depths of Barry White, O'Shea also showcased an excellent choice of (mainly negro spiritual) covers, and facilitated some au­­dience participation with call-and-response parts. On a small stage, he was one of the quiet successes of the festival.

The English alt-folk band Moulettes played to a chilled Sunday early-evening crowd on mainstage, just as the sun decided to make an appearance. They played a rousing, anthemic, yet dark, set of original music. 

These multi-instrumentalists fea­­­tured, among others, a bassoon, electric cello, violin, the auto-harp, and double bass (played by Ted Dwane of Mumford & Sons). Haunting harmony, and a great deal of stamping, kept "Requiem" on the right side of sinister, while "Song­bird" bared the raw vocal qualities of Hannah Miller and Ruth Skipper. 

At one moment classical, at an­­other folk, or jazz-like, and, at times, reminiscent of dubstep, Moulettes have drawn inspiration and tech­nique from a smorgasbord of genres. They are seriously talented. 

The Temperance Movement, a London-based rock band formed in 2011, played mainstage in the dif­ficult early-evening slot on Sun­day night, but their energy and melody quickly established a crowd around the main stage.

Joe Cocker was another era and another festival, but there is a lot of him in Phil Campbell's raw vocals. Campbell's style, though, is com­pletely his own: he never once stopped dancing around the stage, even during the guitar duels between Luke Potashnick and Paul Sayer. The band's first album is out next month. Clever of Greenbelt to get in early.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BMRC) played mainstage late on Sunday evening. The band's lead singer is the son of the late Michael Been, an American musician who died sud­denly, earlier this year. Been had been involved in Christian music for many years, and had previously played Greenbelt with his band The Call.

It was fitting that The Call's biggest hit, "Let The Day Begin", was BRMC's opener. Been had worked with his son's group from the start, and their lyrical concerns undoubt­edly reflect Christian concerns of God, the Devil, heaven, and hell. Many in the audience found their dark themes, and even darker stage-set, too much, and began to divide, along musical and aesthetic lines. 

This was real punk rock: located somewhere between the Clash, White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, and Iggy Pop. They pounded through some stand-out tracks, not least "666 Conducer" about men of evil, "Six Barrel Shotgun", and the hit single "Spread Your Love", which closed the set with screeching feedback.

One teenager in the crowd described it as "the sickest gig I've ever been to". That was no mean compliment.

The Old Plough, Greenbelt's folk club, welcomed audience members to participate. On Sunday evening the entries ranged from traditional sea shanties and fiddle-playing through to original guitar com­positions. The level of experience also varied from amateur to near-professional, with younger people, in particular, encouraged to try out their skills. 

Enthusiastic audience participa­tion in well-known choruses such as "American Pie" and "On Ilkley Moor baht 'at", made for an informal, supportive atmosphere. 

The Silent Disco, on Sunday night, was full of bouncing green LEDs, as people were picked out when the lights swept over the crowd. Silent Disco-goers each had a pair of headphones, picking up radio from the DJs, with a choice of two channels, and a personal volume control. 

It took a while to get used to watching a tent full of people dance, at the same time, to dramatically different music, but, once the novelty had worn off, the Silent Disco felt surprisingly natural. 

The highlight, on Sunday night, was the playing of "Billie Jean". Practically the whole tent was sing­ing along, unable to hear themselves, and throwing the kind of groovy shapes that would make your Dad cringe. Good clean fun.

Near the end of his set in the Performance Café on Sunday night, Martyn Joseph jumped down into the packed audience, which was where he had wanted to be all along. One of Greenbelt's greatest fans as well as one of its most frequent performers, he says that he receives as much as he gives when he plays there.

Like the festival itself, Joseph, these days, is asking questions when he sings about faith. "There's Always Maybe" seemed to echo the theo­logian John Caputo's talk, "God perhaps", from Friday. He is as certain, and as angry as ever, how­ever, when singing about injustice. His recent visit to Palestine has re-energised his concern for the area, demonstrated in this set.

One line into his final song, "Still a Lot of Love Around Here", the 11 p.m. curfew hit, and the sound was cut. Nothing daunted, Joseph carried on, unamplified, and the crowd was still singing the chorus long after he had left the stage.

Sea+Air played their first British gig on Monday to a bemused lunchtime crowd. They are a mar­ried couple, Daniel Benjamin, a German, and Eleni Zafiriadou, a Greek, who have played as a support band to Whitney Houston and the White Stripes on their European tours. 

Their looks were striking - Ben­jamin sports a waxed mous­tache, Zafiriadou has flowing black hair - and their musicality was impressive.

Perhaps there are other artists who play the drums and the electric harpsi­chord (Zafiriadou) and the drums and the guitar (Benjamin), but probably not at the same time.

The final "retro" gig of the festival, on Monday lunchtime, in honour of Greenbelt's 40th birthday, was the one that many had been waiting for. This was the return of Fat and Frantic- arguably the most popular (British) Christian act of the 1980s and '90s. 

Over the course of an hour and a half - in their trademark multi-coloured suits - they played all their essential stuff and more, in­­cluding "The Best of Wendy Craig", and "Aggressive Sun­bathing". 

Jim Harris (now an art historian at the Ashmolean) on lead vocals, lost a button on his trousers, leading him to strip down to his shorts and vest. Hard-core fans lobbed items of fruit on to the stage (a Fat and Frantic tradition), and cheered to the skies the final number: "Last Night my Wife Hoovered my Head" - a song, strangely enough, about Old Testa­ment prophets. 

Thea Gilmore warmed up for her Monday-night mainstage appear­ance with a set in the Performance Café in the afternoon. The stand-out folk performer remarked that the last festival she'd appeared at had been a folk-punk event: "This is a different beast altogether, but still wonderful," she said. 

She led on guitar and vocals, with a line-up consisting of a pianist, bassist, two violinists (one of them only six years old), and a second guitarist. She was at her strongest when her country roots showed, performing songs of human long­ing, and loss.

It was an imaginative idea for the 40th Greenbelt to culminate with the popular return to the mainstage of Belfast's Duke Special (aka Pete Wilson), the six-piece band, aug­­mented by a 30-piece Green­­­belt orchestra co-ordinated by the cellist Harry Napier.  

The music-hall sensibilities of the dreadlocked Duke, and his penchant for a memorable pop chorus, proved a good fit for a light classical makeover. The party atmosphere at the close of the festival was tangible, with close to 10,000 people singing along to "Last Night I Nearly Died", "Everybody Wants a Little Some­thing", and "Our Love Goes Deeper than This". 

Even the bleak and beautiful cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear us Apart" seemed to find a kind of redemption, as one of the best-received mainstage programmes came to an end for another year.


Greenbelt, it seems, has broken with at least one tradition - the suc­cession of earnest but confusing communion services on Sunday morning. For the second year run­ning, this was in the assured hands of John Bell and the Iona Com­munity. It was varied, but never chaotic.

The 40th-birthday theme was prominent. It began with vintage worship songs from Greenbelt's first years (most of which, of course, are still thought of as new in many churches): "Give me oil in my lamp" given the Caribbean treatment, and "Our God Reigns" to a fetching banjo accompaniment.

There followed a set of responses split between the under-40s and the 40-and-overs - which divided the 15,000-strong congregation about 50:50. The next part of the service was split into three sections, each comparing life in 1974 and now, in the areas of female equality, a global perspective, and ecology.

The same pattern was followed in each: a short introduction to remind the congregation of how people talked about these themes 40 years ago, a list of people and movements that have made a difference (this was how Germaine Greer got a mention in a religious service), a biblical reading, a one-minute "talk to your neighbour about" session on an inspiring woman/favourite fair­trade product/creative bit of re­­cycling, and a two-to-three-minute related talk, these in place of a conventional sermon.

Thus Mary Grey spoke about the barriers in her journey towards becoming a theology professor; MacDuff Phiri touched on the plight of the Congo, suggesting that, like illegal diamonds, electronic devices be relabelled "Blood Black­berries" or "Blood iPods"; and Barbara Brown Taylor described the steady progress being made by the organic-food movement in the United States.

Then, after the collection (taken, as usual in the champagne buckets of which the Cheltenham Race Course has far too many), some more songs, including a swoopy 1980s-style version of "The Servant King", all with electric piano and saxophone.

The bread and wine were dis­tributed, once again, in small groups of about 12, and the members of these then held hands and celebrated the peace: the service booklet suggested 40 differ­ent languages:vaka'equ,tsum­u­ki­kiatu,uxolo,soksang, and so on.

A 2013 song followed: 

"You could have honoured better singers
than children shouting in the street. 
You could have chosen safer diners
than those with whom you chose to eat."

Finally, a pantomime blessing, with the alternative responses "Oh, yes he did!" and "Oh, no he didn't!" Thus: "Jesus said, if a man slaps you on the right cheek, kick him in the goolies." "Oh, yes he did!" Scrip­tural accuracy sometimes takes second place to adolescent devil­ment.

John Bell gave the final blessing: "Go and be good, or stay and dance." Both options seemed more possible after such a service.

The Sunday eucharist was just one of nearly 100 acts of worship during the weekend. There were many other highlights, if it is permissible to use such a term. One was the Nursery Rhyme mass, organised by Blesséd. It attracted a crowd that was truly all-age, to sing the confession to the tune of "Baa Baa Black Sheep" ("All like lost sheep, we have gone astray. . ."), and the Lord's Prayer to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel".

A few hours later, the same group was transformed, celebrating to a loud rock backing from Metanoia.

Sanctus 1, from Manchester, organised a service of sorts, celeb­rating elemental beginnings. We were given coloured blobs of Playdough, and told to bond into molecules. We were herded (will­ingly) into a tighter group; we explored water features, including a very thorough sprinkling; and we were handed bead water molecules on leaving.

By contrast, the OuterSpace LGBT eucharist was remarkably con­­ventional, reinforcing the un­­spoken message of the weekend: "Gay people are ordinary. Get over it." The only thing different was the friendly three- or four-minute sharing of the peace.

Author Annie Heppenstall welcomed a diverse group to explore the journey of life and faith through the Celtic cross, on Saturday after­noon. In this interactive workshop, the group created a worship space based around a large Celtic cross fashioned out of rope on the grass. 

Reflecting the influences of historic pagan festivals on the Christian calendar, Heppenstall drew her listeners in with gentle encouragement, enabling strangers to work together in exploring the significance of the four points of the compass on the Celtic cross, which has "God at the centre of a circle with a circumference encompassing all creation". 

This explored times of letting go, of retreating for rest, of waiting in hope, of growing or depleted energy. Reflecting on Jeremiah 6.16, this workshop was a taster of Heppenstall's writing for Wild Goose, such as The Healer's Tree.

On Saturday evening, the Sisters of Bethany led Vespers, which was preceded by a rehearsal to familiarise  the congregation with reading and singing psalms. This was a chance to experience the Divine Office, a liturgy sung by religious communities several times a day.

The psalms, led by a "cantrix", are chanted, verse by verse, to a repeated melody, which makes them slightly easier to commit to mem­ory, but also en­­courages a more contemplative state of mind.

A section of the con­gregation sang the whole service, but many also listened with eyes closed. Some felt relaxed enough to drift off for a moment.

On Saturday evening, Dream, a community of worshippers from Merseyside, encouraged an all-age congregation to seize the God-given potential in those moments in life when circumstances change and we are offered a fresh start.

A montage of black-and-white images depicting moments of human intimacy or pain formed the backdrop to a series of monologues. The audience was asked to inhabit stories of shame, loss, and instability before weaving individual threads into a large communal tapestry - a visual representation of St Paul's assertion that "all things work together for the good of those who love God."

A  final service of holy com­mun­ion pro­vided the space for wo­r­shippers to harness that mo­­ment, by breaking bread among strangers, as an "unlikely begin­ning".

If you thought had thought they were missing during the main service, worship leader Ben Cantelon offered shedloads of worship songs when he took to the Big Top, on Sunday lunchtime.

Cantelon's session, appropriately titled "Shedloads", gave people the opportunity to praise God through modern worship songs, at a slightly different pace and noise level to Graham Kendrick the night before.

It was a noticeably young au­­dience, made up of mainly teenagers and young adults, who sang along to the powerful guitars and strong voices. With no words behind him when he started playing "Bless the Lord", the crowd took the mantle and the powerful words echoed around the tent.

This gave many from more Evan­gelical backgrounds a feeling of a little bit of Spring Harvest or New Wine at Greenbelt, and rounded off a wonderful morning of worship.

There is a well-known spiritual exercise where you imagine your own death. Only Ikon would do this all dressed as Elvis in his Las Vegas days. And only Ikon would find, too late, that the requisite dark glasses meant they couldn't always see their scripts and computer keyboards in the dim lighting. . .

When, at the entrance to Ikon's "The End" on Sunday afternoon, participants were given a balloon and string with the instruction "This is your life. Tie it to yourself and blow yourself up," it was ob­­vious how the service would end. 

Before the balloon popping, the congregation wrote what they hoped their lives' legacies would be, only to have them ridiculed, and stuffed into a child's potty (another Elvis reference).

The underlying message was an invitation to give up the comfort of a God who will make things right, and to embrace a community of decay. Like the invitation to leave the venue blindfolded, with which the service ended, that was probably still a step too far for most par­ticipants.

In the "Les Misérables Mass" on Sunday evening, Transcendence  - a sacramental-worship group from York - took the music and themes of the classic musical, add­ing them to the communion liturgy. The queue stretching out of the venue was a testament to the en­­thusiasm of the Greenbelters for such a concept, and it was a dis­appoint­ment to many that there was too little space for all. 

Victor Hugo's story provided the structure of the service, with Boublil and Schönberg's score under­pinning key moments: "On My Own" be­­came the Lord's Prayer, while "Castle on a Cloud" was the Sanc­tus. 

Overall, it worked well, and there was an atmosphere of worship rather than theatre, but the leading of the singing could have been stronger, and venue overcrowding made the screens difficult to see. Concluding with "Do You Hear the People Sing", people were heard singing all the way back to the site.

Following on from last year's emotional U2charist, this year's service on Sunday evening was, wisely, held in the festival's largest indoor venue. It meant that the bread and wine could not be received in the gallery, for logistical reasons, but otherwise, several thousand people worshipped God, led by clergy and the music of U2, played by musicians from Lumi­nous and Metanoia.

They also heard a short sermon that dovetailed with the group's social-justice concerns. "Along­side", "One", "Yahweh", "I Will Follow", and "40", among others, contem­porary liturgy and prayers helped to create a celestial worship environ­ment.

On Sunday night, Celtic Springs, a worshipping community from Durham that blends Christian liturgy with Druidic practice, over­came several technical glitches, and some unfortunately bright lighting, to lead the congregation in a celeb­ration of the "Divine Feminine". They believe that the female aspects of God (or "Godde") are too often neglected. Accompanied by harp-strumming, and readings about Lady Wisdom from the book of Proverbs, the women in the con­gregation were invited to tie red ribbons around each other's wrists, which were then used to bless the men ceremonially. 

The sharing of communion followed using an altered liturgy - "Lord God of Hosts" became "Our vulnerable God", and the Lord's Prayer was chanted in Aramaic,  on the basis that the word now trans­lated as "Father" is said to be gender-neutral, meaning "Birther", or "Life-giver".

Once a year a group of musicians and singers come together to lead Greenbelt in Taizé worship. A note at the bottom of the service sheet, on Sunday evening, said that "from time to time" there are vacancies for musicians "of a good standard" to join them. 

The standard of the music is indeed very high, but it also created a common paradox in Taizé ser­vices. Good musicians want to stretch themselves, and the chants chosen were therefore less well-known, and more complex.

The result was that, even with the musical parts printed out, con­gregational singing was limited. On the other hand, the music from the choir and orchestra soared. 

To great popular acclaim, "Beer and Hymns" was officially back on the programme, on Monday after­noon. Formerly held in the Green­belt "local", the Jesus Arms, Beer and Hymns was exactly what it said it was. The stalwart landlord used to announce the hymns, Monkeyboy Dave belted them out on the piano, and the audience roared along, downing pints in between. 

In its last official appearance, in 2010, it was a victim of its own suc­cess, with hundreds of angry Greenbelters excluded because the venue was too full. This year, the Jesus Arms was able to extend its licence to include the Big Top, and everyone could happily join in song.  

Sacred Harp singing took place on Saturday and Monday after­noons. Lesson One: it has nothing to do with harps. It is a four-part a cappella tradition that originated in the 19th century in the southern United States. The Sacred Harp is a book of hymns written in a musical system using different shaped note-heads, so that untrained voices can more easily sing in harmony. 

This was a first for Greenbelt, but an enthusiastic crowd of 400 turned up for the first session, making it arguably the largest Sacred Harp event ever held in the UK.

The folky harmonies blended beautifully. The notation system undoubtedly helped with learning the four parts, but an hour was not quite long enough for people to become comfortably familiar. But it worked well as a taster, and the participants loved the flavour. 

Despite the intrusion of rock music from nearby venues, Fr Christopher Jamison led a rapt audience in a session on prayer, on Monday evening. 

Having asked for a show of hands, he concluded that a complete beginner's guide was not quite the thing, so he explained three strands: personal prayer, sacred reading, and corporate prayer. 

He said that repeated phrases to mull over can greatly help with praying ceaselessly. Sacred reading is a way mentally to chew over God's word in your heart rather than your head. Corporate prayer is greatly enhanced when a gathering of people have, individually, spent time with God.

To finish, Jamison led a short meditation in the monastic tra­dition. The music drifting through the window faded into the back­ground, as the congregation searched for silence inside them­selves.


A full film programme was ­­­run throughout the week­end. Among the most popular were Brave, about a red-headed tomboy princess, and Looper, a Bruce Willis action movie about time travel, assassins, and all things adolescent.

The documentary, Greenbelt at 40, was premiered at the festival. To call it a home movie would be unfair, but there was an element of a family watching its own history unfold - complete with oohs and ahs, and affectionate laughter from the home crowd that gathered to watch it.

The film's director, Pip Piper, made a decent job of en­­capsulating 40 years of history, given the scarcity of archive footage. There were moments of hilarity, conjured by the quantity of hair and width of trouser bottoms, but also moments of genuine pathos as old friends and great moments were recalled.

It was not afraid to tackle the more difficult moments, of financial hard­ship and embarrassing mis­judge­­ment, but it did so against a background of positive celebration of a remarkable event, whose his­tory, has, as the film demonstrates, changed people's lives. 


In Friday night, Malcolm Guite, a true priest-poet in the tradition of George Herbert and R. S. Thomas, introduced his work. He is com­mitted to reviving traditional forms such as the sonnet, villanelle, and sestina. His ambitious recent collec­tion, Sounding the Seasons, is a tour through the Church year, with a series of meditations on the Stations of the Cross. 

We read from this as well as from his forthcoming book, which in­­cludes tributes to saints, official and unrecognised, such as Hildegard of Bingen, C. S. Lewis, and Dante, to whose Divine Comedy Guite re­­turns again and again, con­sidering it "not dodgy theology, but a picture of the human soul". Guite's own verse is not all soberly theological; he also recited a d­­e­­lightful poem about finding his work jamming a photo­copier - the triumph of art over technology.

On Friday evening, journalist and novelist Melissa Benn spoke of her dual roles as passionate feminist and careful mother of teenaged daugh­ters.

Shaped by Second Wave femin­ism, she is alarmed by a current resurgence of misogyny, along with the Disney-princess effect on femininity. 

Countering the view that femin­ism and female sexuality con­stitute "dangerous, diluted poison", Benn embraces feminism's potential to promote female achieve­ment and change a culture of suspicion that allows only one in 30 female sexual-assault victims to see her attacker tried. 

Her new book, due in mid-September, is What Should We Tell Our Daughters? She wants girls to become confident in a safe family setting, able to have their voices heard, and achieve in all areas, including maths and the sciences, while also appreciating that money and status are not the only markers of success. 

Benn is a clear com­municator of her strongly held ideas - just don't call her "daughter of Tony".

The novelist Jo Baker's fifth novel, published just weeks before Green­belt, enters fascinating literary territory. Longbourn maps Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants.

In Saturday lunchtime the author began by reading a passage in which Sarah, a Bennet house­maid, dreams of never having to wash other people's underclothes ever again.

Baker was alerted to the presence (or absence) of the servants in Austen because, given her own back­ground, with a grandmother and a great-aunt in service, she realised she would never have been able to go to the Netherfield ball.

Reading Austen closely, she became aware that "there were other people in the room where Pride and Prejudice was being played out."

Baker's research into servanthood was practical as well as academic: "You wouldn't believe all the things you can do with cold tea." The result is an intriguing account of this section of society.

What's the secret to writing a good novel? On Saturday afternoon, Catherine Fox, novelist and lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan Uni­versity, invited her audience to revisit their childhoods: the imaginary friends, games and even entire worlds. This reversion to and reliance on our imagination is key, Fox said. 

Novels don't need to be sheer escapism, however; from them, useful facts and truths can be taken back into the "real world". They can even raise theological possibilities such as: what if there is a God? 

She spoke about her most recent book, Acts and Omissions, a novel about the fictional diocese of Lindchester; and she confessed: "Write about what you know? I write in order to find out what I know."

In "The Beginnings of Fiction", on Saturday evening, the novelist Jenn Ashworth introduced an extract from her latest manuscript by re­butting the tendency of male novelists to compare the creative process to pregnancy and child­birth. "The only thing they have in common," she mused, "is that at the time it's so terrible you say you'll never do it again."

Ashworth's understanding of the way that inspiration works is more akin to ancient ideas of the muse: as a "conversation" with someone else in the world who is having the same thought or experience, transmitting the lives of others in a blend of "co-creation and telepathy".

Far from the sublime experience it sounds, the author's frank testi­mony was one of procrastination and "self-sickening"; only when there was nothing left to say did she find that the words finally came.

On Saturday evening, Catherine Fox and Gregory Norminton, of the Man­chester Writing School, pon­dered whether we can have faith in fiction when traditional publishing is falling by the wayside.

Norminton decouples the art of fiction from the business of pub­lishing. He said that he writes about his passions, without thought for the market. Self-publishing, print-on-demand, and crowd-funding speak to this desire to move pub­lishing out of the hands of corp­orations.

Likewise, Fox, frustrated by pub­lishers who loved her books but deemed them unmarketable, took a new tactic with her fourth novel. She is publishing weekly instalments on her blog, allowing for reader interaction.

Cox read from this work-in-progress, while Norminton shared extracts from Beacons, his anthology of climate stories. Pas­sionate about the environment from the age of 12, he wanted to bring the issue to a wider readership without resorting to propaganda.

Writing with an agenda may be anathema to some, but telling stories still has great power to broaden perspectives.

On Sunday lunchtime, the poet Paul Cookson hosted "Between the Lines", where four writers brought a favourite piece of writing of their own, a new piece nobody had heard before, and one by someone who had inspired them. 

An eclectic panel included the poet Anthony Wilson; the writer Deborah Fielding (who read a short story from a collection inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper); the performance poet Harry Baker; Katharine Venn, who began writing poetry at a time when she was "reconfiguring" her faith; and Simon Mayo, the Radio 2 DJ, who read from his debut novel Itch.

Andrew Tate, senior lecturer in English Literature at Lancaster Uni­versity, led a dis­cussion on Sunday afternoon, on the future of books and reading. The novelist Jenn Ashworth said that it had never been easier for writers to publish their work, but "how do we navigate through this mass of literature . . . and find what's going to speak to us?"

Jonathan Taylor, the poet and novelist, expressed concern about the influence of mass corporations such as Amazon which exercised "massive control" over the book trade. Writers were receiving "less and less money", while corporations were receiving "more and more".

Simon Jones, the editor of Third Way, thought it was important to consider "who is being enabled to write". It was easier for those with financial means to pursue a writing career and to access teaching such as creative writing courses. "We're narrowing the band of people who have access. . . A shared culture should be something to which every­­body has access."

Anthony Wilson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma on Valentine's Day 2006. In a twist on this year's theme, he called his talk on Sunday evening "Life begins with cancer."

His memoir Love for Now is a minute-by-minute journal of the cancer diagnosis and his treatment, whileRiddanceis a col­lection of poems written after he en­­tered remission that autumn.

In readings from both books, Wilson looked back at a maelstrom of emotions, but also a time of overwhelming support from his church com­munity. 

He argued that martial imagery (such as "battling") about cancer is unhelpful, because it romanticises dis­ease. Such language falsely divides the world into winners and losers. His poem "I Am Fighting" mocks the battle metaphors, while "How to Pray for the Dying" skewers the banalities that people spout at cancer patients. In­­stead, Wilson advised, with trademark candour, "Try say­ing, 'Shit happens'."

The novelist Jon McGregor made a theatrical entrance to his session on Monday after­noon, dressed in suit and tie and carrying a battered suit­case. He came on stage to the sound of American music played over footage of a British Fenlands land­scape. Like a travelling sales­man displaying his wares, he opened the suitcase to reveal copies of his books, and then began to read. 

The stories from his recent collection, This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You, are set in Lincolnshire's fens, and named after particular towns: one set in a lost-property office; another, the one-sentence tale of an arsonist. There are stories inspired by the "V" section of the dictionary, Philip Larkin's poem "Wires", and the constant threat of flooding. 

As he concluded, the theatrics recurred. Gathering his things, he recited a litany of Lincolnshire place-names, throwing the last few over his shoulder as he exited. And so the troubadour went on his way.

You had to see the crowds at­­tracted by poetry to believe them. The Big Top was packed at lunchtime on Monday to listen to a line-up of performance poets. One of the best of them, Harry Baker, then joined Jim Wallis on the main stage for a YouTubed "crash mob", banging pots and pans to accom­pany a campaign poem against tax avoidance.

10×9 was a storytelling event where nine people have up to ten minutes each to tell a real story from their lives. There were two sessions this Greenbelt, gathering together audience-told stories on the themes of growing up and love - short tales with truth and style, sometimes both at the same time. 

Stories are naturally unpredic­table, but some of these were ex­­ceptional. There was humour, con­fession, a polished double-act, even a song with actions.


Instantly recognisable as the Hawaiian-shirted master of the one-liner, BBC regular Milton Jones began in characteristic pun-tastic style, firing off whimsical wordplay that was sometimes slightly more surreal than the audience could keep up with.

The meanderings of his oddball brand of scrutiny led him from Scots to taxis to dead baby ghosts (Jones believes an artist's job is to see things differently), at the Big Top on Friday evening.

After a short but silly set, Jones sat down to talk faith, art and the creative process in a frank but warm and light-hearted interview. From reminiscing about per­form­ing at Greenbelt in the 1980s with the bizarre band "Norman" to the fickle nature of fame, the take-home thrust of his thinking about Chris­tian artists is that they should not limit them­selves to making "Chris­tian" art. After all, as Jones put it, "should bakers who are Christians just make hot cross buns?"


As ever, Greenbelt's visual arts strand provided very different kinds of spaces, and a rare op­­portunity for hush. The main showing space, a standard race­course bar, had been transformed into a well-lit pro­fessional-looking gallery. 

The title of the group exhibition housed there was "Through a Glass Darkly", which explored inner "under­­ground worlds". Six artists were featured, and, while the subject­­-matter was sombre, it fell a long way short of gloom. The key piece was a large work by Jake Lever, The Blue the Dim and the Gold, depicting a gilded lake and a treeline inspired by the trees that fringe the hilly horizon at Chelten­ham. A lone figure in a boat floats, almost in­­visibly, on the lake, an emblem of human weakness.  

This was complemented by the work of British-born Indian Caro­line Jariwala, whose medita­tive works, made of earth-colours, gold, and henna, formed a series of "silent prayers", exploring the com­mon­alities  between her (Quaker) Chris­tian spirituality, and her Hindu cultural roots.

The work of Chris Hoggett and Diana Green also paired nicely. Hoggett's illustrations, which spring from his long experience of depres­sion, echo William Blake and Francis Bacon. The etchings in Green's series "Life Began" look like rubbings from ancient stones, and chart the process of creation as narrated in the Authorised Version of the early chapters of Genesis.

Claire Watson's ceramics, part of a series entitled "Life Goes On . . .", also appear to come from some ancient place. Inspired by the Norman church at Hailes, these faded, stone-like pieces hint at antiquity, evoking the passing of time, but also the endurance of peace, and harmony to be found in hallowed spaces. 

There were also two artists with considerable international reputa­tions who had works on show. Nicola Green (Features, 15 Feb­ruary) showed her powerful series  In Seven Days. . ., the result of her stint as artist-in-residence during the 2008 Obama presidential cam­paign, including an imposing image of Obama himself, taken on the night on which he received the Demo­cratic nomination.

Sokari Douglas Camp (Features, 9 August) brought her imposing, steel, bigger than life-size figures, which commemorate the ending of slavery: All the World is Now Richer. Their monumentality deserved a larger, and better lit venue; but, squeezed as they were, the intimacy of the space in which they found themselves ironically en­­hanced the power of these awesome, epic heroes.

In Abdul-Rehman Malik's per­foming arts workshop "Is that a bomb in your bag? How does it feel to be the 'enemy'?", on Sunday afternoon, Malik could simply have told the tale how, in the 1990s, a man in Starbucks, in Canada, de­­manded to know if he had a bomb in his bag. 

Instead, he joined with a drama facilitator to stage a session in­­corporating role-play, conversation, and human sculpture. Each person was invited privately to identify, in the audience, a protector and an enemy, and, as we walked around the room, ensure that the former was always between us and the latter. Feedback afterwards revealed just how powerful this exercise was, triggering all sorts of feelings.

Later, before hearing Malik's own story, we enacted the Starbucks scenario, showing through our pos­ture our reaction to the con­frontation. With an impressive lack of British reserve, people felt rage, shame, fear, and stress.

Half an hour was far too short for the large audience that gathered to watch Configurations, performed by Shonaba Jeyasingh Dance, on Sun­day afternoon. Four lithe dancers performed to a composition by Michael Nyman, played on stage by a string quartet. The work, first per­formed in 1988, was breath­taking for the audience as well as the dancers, who were trained in Bharata Natyam, a classical Indian dance form. There was no narrative, but much emotional interplay be­­tween the dancers, bringing out themes such as menace and escape, but also exuberant joy.

Inua Ellams's one-man show The 14th Tale received a standing ovation from the audience on Sunday evening. They were gripped by the lyrical beauty that brought alive a simple story of a young boy's migration from Nigeria to London.

Using his skills as a poet and playwright, Ellams blended meta­phor, rhyme, and refrain to paint vivid pictures of African family life, and schoolboy antics. "I am from a long line of troublemakers," he said, "inheritor of fast feet, and a father's contempt for authority, born with clenched fists and a natural thirst for battle, only quenched by breast milk."

But in among the comic stories of playground pranks and teenage crushes, were moments of pro­fundity, as the young poet hinted at a greater power at work in his life: "A vague order to things, of things happening when they're meant to -  like a star alignment or pendulum swing." 


This year's festival began with a special "thank you" for the festival supporters known as Greenbelt Angels. Among the performers was singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph, who performed a couple of new songs. 

Joseph was, as usual, at his agitated best in song and anecdote, as he recalled a recent trip to oc­­cupied Bethlehem.

On Saturday afternoon, for one day only, "Last Orders" was early, and on tour, bringing a village fête to the Big Top. 

It was opened by the Revd Gerald Ambulance (aka journalist Stephen Tomkins), praising all the good things that come to us from heaven "like monosodium gluta­mate and E177". Like every fête should, it featured a wonky veg­etable com­petition, plus some al­­most realistic parish announce­ments. 

Grace Petrie got the crowd singing, as did Beer and Hymns. But the undoubted stars were Folk On, who brought the fête to a close with "The Lovely Song", and its rousing chorus of: "Find me somebody to love".

The Christian Aid tent hosted baking sessions throughout the festival, offering Greenbelters the chance to "prove" themselves and their baking skills.

The Christian Aid Collective showed young and old how to make soda bread. As people were kneading, the volun­teers recounted the story of people's benefiting from projects in various countries around the world - such as farmers in Kenya who are equipped with mobile phones and can receive texts about the weather. This tells them the best time to plant their crops; so farmers can yield a successful harvest to support them­selves.

Saturday's bakers were invited to make two loaves: one for the festival eucharist on Sunday, and one to collect later in the day to enjoy themselves. The sessions were a wonderfully creative idea, feeding the body, mind, and soul.

Hidden away in the Greenbelt campsite was a new venue: "The Grove", the temporary home of the new Forest Church movement.

A range of activities took place there over the weekend - from fire rituals to circle drumming - as well as "Mossy Church" on Sun­day after­noon: a simple, loosely struc­tured form of worship. 

After listening to the story of St Brendan, par­ticipants were free to explore activities that linked elements of his life and ministry with ele­ments of nature (making seed balls, prayer arrows, candle holders and origami boats), before closing with a prayer and dis­missal via a paddling pool. From the green setting to the relaxed, inclusive, slightly quirky feel, it was "very Greenbelt".

Clare Balding's warm broad­casting style put a live studio audience immediately at ease when she presented her regular BBC Radio 2 show,Good Morning Sun­day, from the festival. 

Alongside live acoustic-guitar performances from Garth Hewitt, Thea Gilmore, and Martyn Joseph, Balding was joined by Vicky Beech­ing, who was interviewed on the compatibility of faith and social media. 

Richard Coles brought a "mo­­ment of reflection", celebrating Greenbelt as a place of unity in a Church that can sometimes seem "impossibly diverse", and the best­selling author and White House ad­­viser Jim Wallis gave an im­­passioned plea for the Church to be "movement-builders - the ground­swell". 

This, he said, can influence politicians to act in the interests of a long-forgotten principle: the com­mon good. 


The village was the place to be if you were parents with children: a group of venues with programmes aimed at children too young for the youth zone.

The "Village Green" offered a wide variety of lively activities, from Zumba to Greenbelt's 40th birthday party; the Village Playhouse was the venue where stories came alive for young and old. 

Blunderbus Theatre Company brought two of their shows: How to Catch a Star and Dotty the Dragon. The latter a story that helped chil­dren and adults alike learn about forgiveness, not taking people at face value and the importance of helping and accepting others.

Lunabug entertained with their Dreams of Philomena show - an enchanting tale of Philomena and Albert - whose last request before going to heaven is to see his wife again. 

In the tale, which sensitively tackled issues of bereavement, loss and saying goodbye, Philomema is whisked off to the land of the waiting place where her late hus­band Albert is looking for the last train to eternity. 

Simon Buckley gave a powerful retelling of the prodigal son through puppets and comedy, and Snail Tales story­tellers performed the premiere of their show A Pinch of Pickle, A Whisk of Wise.

The Village Hall, the smaller of the family venues, provided space for a wide variety of activies and workshops. 

Ola Samba had everyone playing samba drums and dancing carnival style; there was story time with author and illustrator Rebecca Elliot; and play songs with Green­belt favourites Nickie and Gill, whose simple blend of actions and easy-to-pick-up songs, delighted toddlers and parents alike. 

The Make and Take tent was a firm favourite, with a wide variety of things to make, from sock puppets and bird feeders to bees and giant windmills. The Village Orchard - which had plenty of indoor and outdoor toys and books - was another well-trodden venue.

The Shed and The Chillage hosted the lion's share of this year's youth programme. Featuring de­­bates, workshops, chill-out zones, and movies, the two spaces pro­vided both a welcoming and open space, but also retained an allusive aspect of exclusivity by strictly barring old fogeys. 

The Chillage, in the bowels of the racecourse grandstand, was, ac­­tually, extremely chilled, until "Gangnam Style" started blaring. Complete with a Wii, table football, sofas, and snack bar, the space was a lovely warm hangout for youth and students, and, by Saturday after­noon, they' ha already sold out of Coke.

Films in The Chillage included Cool Runnings, Mean Girls, Toy Story and Mamma Mia

Friday at The Shed featured 40th-birthday celebrations, includ­ing a quiz. Saturday kicked off with a fitness boot-camp, magic work­shop, and a girls-only debate about beauty, but the highlight of Saturday was the gospel-singing workshop by the London Com­mun­­­­­ity Gospel Choir ("Say 'halle­lujah' like you really mean it!") which had people spilling out of the doors as we clapped and swayed to "Oh Happy Day". 

In the covered space outside you could play ping pong, giant Jenga, and other games, from morning to night, as well as a festival-wide treasure hunt, using GPS, called "Geo­caching".

Cake and Debate sessions proved popular, as did the Acoustic Café, which brought a select programme of performers up close. 

Sunday offered, among other things, a clothes swap, scriptwriting, comedy, and debate, while the truly exhausted could kick back and watch The Hunger Games in the Chillage. 

Monday's highlights included Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art; a "Jesus was a lobbyist" activist workshop; the Hip Hop Shake­speare Company, and a screening of The Lion King (in which most people probably dozed off, after a full weekend of Green­belting). 

In the Big Top, at lunchtimes, "Shedloads" took place, providing youth events in a larger venue, led by the Youth Volunteers.

RoBo Disco, Big Games (includ­ing a very amusing cling-film olym­pics) and a youth worship-session with Ben Cantelon all attracted good-sized crowds.   

The sheer range of this year's Youthbelt programme enabled Green­­­­belt's up-and-comers to ap­­pre­ciate a full spectrum of arts, politics and worship. 

Reviews written by Sarah Brush, John Cheek, Liz Clutterbuck, Madeleine Davies, Malcolm Doney, Rebecca Foster, Paul Handley, Jemima Lewis, Mark Montgomery, Annie Porthouse, Matilda Reith, Ed Thornton, Clare Truman, Mike Truman, Helena Wright.

On-site production by Abi Renshaw and Naomi James.

Edited by Christine Miles


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