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New home, with room to grow

29 August 2014

The Greenbelt Festival made its first appearance at Boughton House. Paul Handley  introduces our review of the weekend's events


"FESTIVAL? What festival?" Standing in the open courtyard in front of the east wing of Boughton House, we were looking over pristine lawns that led up towards parkland and fields. The view was uninterrupted, the evening peaceful.

Boughton, the Northamptonshire home of the Duke of Buccleuch, can absorb a festival of 15,000 and hardly notice it, it seems. On the other side of the house, people were playing on another vast lawn, that ran down to various water features. Then, through a belt of trees, the festival proper: a pop-up village of marquees and tents.

Below the walled garden were the main stage and further tents; then another belt of trees, and the huge camping area. Finally, in other fields in the far distance, the cars were parked. One thing it wasn't was cramped.

That is one aspect of the Greenbelt Festival. There is another, of course. Moving house is usually traumatic, and moving something as big as a festival more so, especially after Greenbelt had settled so successfully at the Cheltenham Racecourse, its home for the past dozen years. The organisers have been on tenterhooks, therefore, throughout the year: would the punters come? And would they like it?

The answer was yes. We spoke to many people over the weekend, and the overwhelming view was that the new site was a success. A few missed the reassuring feel of concrete which Cheltenham provided. More missed the plumbing. But all agreed that Boughton was far more beautiful, and appreciated the compactness of the festival site, and the expanse of the surrounding parkland.

There were negative comments. Country roads and farm tracks are not designed for thousands of vehicles that turn up at roughly the same time. Limited access to the site meant long and frustrating queues to get in on Friday. And getting out was no picnic, either, especially in the dark and the rain. The organisers struggled to cope on Monday and Tuesday with sloping grass car parks and rutted pathways.

Expanse has its negative side, too. Despite advance warnings, many campers were unprepared for the distances that they had to walk from the car parks to the camping fields, and from the camping fields to the festival proper.

Other festivals show photos of happy young things walking along with backpacks. Greenbelt attracts a much wider age range, and some people are not very good at the concept of travelling light, which was the festival's chosen theme. (Stewards saw a dining table, an ironing board, and a plastic tank of pet snails being carried on to the site.) Golf-buggy taxis did their best, but it was a learning curve.

So, slow access, distant car parks, dodgy mobile-phone coverage, queues for the lavatories - all things that might have been tackled better with more foresight; but all things, too, that the organisers can fix for next time. The Greenbelt crowd is, by and large, very forgiving. So the cold at night and the rain on Monday - beyond the control of the organisers, of course - were met with stoicism. "Soggy but happy," was one Facebook comment.

All this assumes an ordered mind that weighs up pros and cons before committing something to memory. Once again, though, people's recollections of Greenbelt will be based on flashes of experience: listening, thinking, realising, dancing, and singing; and there was a surfeit of these.

Our verdict? We were relieved and hopeful. Everyone knew that this was bound to be a bit experimental, but Greenbelt could not afford a trial year. The festival had to work, and it did - spectacularly at times. Watching the crowd at Boughton was like observing the beginning of a love affair. No wonder the campers want to get closer. 

THE reviews that follow are a composite piece of work by about 15 staff and volunteers. They give an idea of what was on offer over the weekend, and convey, we hope, some of the ideas and excitement of the festival.

But no review can communicate how the festival worked for the people who attended, since there is never a typical Greenbelt experience. Days range from the frenetically busy to the completely laid-back, depending on things such as character, stamina, and whether you had small children.

Just as an example: your editor started Saturday with a tour of Boughton House. It seemed disrespectful not to, somehow, given that they had opened it specially. There followed a fascinating walk around the parkland in the company of Bob Gilbert, an expert on trees, their nature and stories.

Lunch was taken on the grass outside the Big Top in the sunshine, listening to John Martyn and his guests with less attention than they deserved. Then there was a stroll through the site, bumping into friends, talking to some people in g-store, the charity marketplace, avoiding others.

At teatime, cake. I came upon a Clandestine Cake event: about a dozen people had brought cakes to share with each other on a table under the trees. No agenda, just cake-sharing. I hovered journalistically until they invited me to join them. Then, after two slices, or maybe three, guilt drove me to the Pilates session happening near by on the lawn.

There followed a reception, with Greenbelt trustees, on the other side of Boughton House (now they will know why I turned up late). Then, after a rest with Hymns A&M colleagues in the bookshop, I was summoned by text to join in the ceilidh, led by the Scottish band Flaming Nora. That worked off the rest of the cake.

By Greenbelt standards, that was an easy day: no challenging talks, lots of wandering about. But then, at the end, I talked to somebody who had been to just one talk and then sat talking to friends in the Jesus Arms. And that was it. She had easily got her money's worth, she said. 


SARA MILES was one of the first speakers on Friday evening. Delayed flights from San Francisco and heavy motorway traffic meant that she made it to the venue with a minute or two to spare.

She spoke without sleep, and without coffee, and chose Greenbelt's new bucolic setting to talk about cities. Her vision of heaven was far from the Elysian Fields. The New Jerusalem was "less like a pious Disneyland" and more like the Syrian-run bodega in her street, called The New Jerusalem.

In her view, it was idolatrous to live in a comfortably Christian enclave. "There isn't an area of life from which God is shut out. . . The blessing has been set loose. God has left the building."

The audience was fascinated by her account of taking Ash Wednesday on to the streets (Features, 22 August; Books, page 28). She also praised the Mexican concept of mestijaze, a mixture of cultures and race, which she applied to the Virgin Mary and the incarnation: "It is dangerous to mix blood, sex, breath, death, dirt, with the spirit. . . But a spiritual life is a physical life, and it is inevitably shared with people whom we didn't choose to be next to."

In "Fair Weather Christianity", Susan Durber, a theological adviser to Christian Aid, described herself as a "reluctant and devout convert to climate change". In the past year she had gone from feeling "vaguely guilty" about it to being "shaken to my core" about its immediate impact on the poorest in the world.

Refreshingly, she acknowledged that it was possible to "thrive" on making people feel guilty, or to take a "perverse delight in doom scenarios". This did not work. The answer, she suggested, inspired by her reading of Old Testament prophets, was to emphasise both joy in creation and hope in God - an ounce of which was worth a "tonne of despair".

Martika Rose, in "Travelling Heavy", said that "Christianity is one of the names for our sin - there is nothing we can do about it; for many of us, the gospel is not good news, but bad news."

Rose did not want her audience to leave feeling cosseted. Her targets - white, liberal Christians - were guilty of a salvation complex, she suggested, heirs of a culture that had taught them to believe that they were almost godlike, blessed with the answers to the world's problems.

For those on the social-justice bandwagon who were asking "What can we do?", the answer, perhaps, was "Nothing." At the very least, any action should "disrupt power" and lose them friends, she suggested. For the most part, the audience lapped it up.

In "What's Wrong With Poverty?", the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Sam Wells, led a packed venue into a thought-provoking inventory of Western thinking on poverty.

Our narratives, he argued, divided roughly into those of deficit and those of dislocation. In the first case, we sought to address the "other's" perceived lack, working to give them more of what they did not have. This was simplistic, Wells suggested, and could often result in further alienation, but perhaps we could begin to recognise broken relationships as the central human problem. After all, God's purpose in salvation was to restore us to himself and to each other.

Could a communion-centred outlook help us to overcome paternalistic "us and them" outreach? The audience certainly left with plenty to mull over.

In "How to Date", Jackie Elton and David Pullinger, from Christian Connection, led a session that explained the latest research into online dating.

The write-up mentioned Christian ethics; so a discussion about how we could "do dating" in a way that honoured God, and blessed us and others, might have been expected. The talk mostly delivered statistics, however, and addressed the expected concerns of first-time social networkers, and could have been delivered by any large, online-dating website.

The tips offered (meet face to face, messages of 80-90 words with a compliment or two get more responses) may have benefited newcomers to online socialising, but the principal findings of the research seemed merely to confirm that the usual norms of human interaction and common social sense still applied.

Andy Parnham, from the Christian charity Livability, surveyed the crowd and commented: "See how many people want to hear about happiness."

"Does Church Make You Happy" outlined Livability's Happiness Course, a mission tool to help the Church to connect with the wider community (rather than explicitly evangelise). It was developed because there was scientific evidence that showed that faith cultivated happiness. Local course-leaders testified to its value as a leveller, providing a spiritual language.

Parnham pointed to relevant research findings, and useful resources online and in print, alongside straightforward self-help tips. There were no new revelations, but it was a means to reflect on the reality of happiness.

Brian McLaren stated that he believed that we were entering a third age for the interpretation of the Bible. For 1500 years, Bible 1.0 was in the hands of a small priestly elite who used it to control believers.

Translations into vernacular languages, and the Reformation, brought Bible 2.0, where people would gather together in churches with those who shared their hermeneutic.

Now that the internet meant that all interpretations were available to anyone who searched for them, he believed that a critical and literary (rather than literal) approach would take hold.

Because Bible 3.0 seemed to be based on literary criticism, it might be questioned why it has taken so long to transfer from academia - where it has been commonplace for decades - to the pews.

Religion was undervalued and misunderstood, argued the Director of the Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, Professor Andrew Dinham. He gave three reasons: religion was everywhere; religion had changed, but we hadn't noticed; and religion contained useful wisdoms, but we had forgotten what they were.

He pointed out that 84 per cent of the world's population had some religious affilliation, but that, in public life, it was marginalised. Using a question-and-answer format, one of the central issues he outlined was that, for decades, a pattern of religious education in schools, which had treated religion as "past and other" rather than lived experience, had helped to turn religion in the public mind into a monolith rather than a dynamic force that "resonates with the great human themes".

A motivated musician may sing a good song, but that does not necessarily make him or her a good speaker. The campaigner Theo Simon shone when singing, but needed someone else to explain the theory behind his practice.

There were a few good points - music amplified a cause, united a crowd, and presented a clear message - but his examples demonstrated little understanding of the contemporary music scene. He fared better when he recalled personal anecdotes of his life as a dedicated "semi-professional troublemaker".

In "The End Of Prison As We Know It?" Sara Hyde began by cataloguing the many and varied failings of our present criminal justice system. Charismatically delivering damning statistics on health care, substance abuse, and reoffending rates, she argued that a punitive focus simply was not working.

Hyde was a powerful speaker, with the knowledge and experience, but it was her passion, vision, and humanity that truly engaged her listeners. The talk "zoomed out" to consider the bigger picture of society, diagnosing a relational problem that required a relational approach, and sparked lively agreement from audience members who had worked in prisons themselves.

Hyde concluded that there was no quick fix, and that lasting change would require sacrificial commitment of time, money, and life choices.

Becca Stevens, the Episcopalian priest who founded Magdalene Homes and Thistle Farms in order to rescue and employ sex workers in the United States (Features, 13 June), brought a small entourage. It included her husband, and son who country-and-western musicians; and Regina Mullins, who was one of the first five residents of the first Magdalene house, after she left prison.

Mullins spoke of her initial suspicion of the offer of a house where she could live, free of charge, for two years. In her experience, "wherever you go, you've got to deal something." Thistle Farms now dealt in essential oils and toiletries, as a means of employing the former sex workers and funding its rescue programme.

As Sheila McClean, another former "graduate" of the rehab programme, testified, the women in the homes "loved her through" the process. The approach paid dividends, Stevens said: it had an 80-per-cent success rate. "Love is the most lavish thing we can offer," she said. "It's amazing that that lavishness can still save millions of dollars."

We are often told that we should forgive others, but rarely get help with how to do so. In conversation with the broadcaster Clare Catford, Mpho Tutu outlined the fourfold practical process of forgiveness set out in The Book of Forgiving, which she co-wrote with her father, Desmond Tutu (Books, 27 June).

She suggested that we needed to tell our story, often starting in the middle, where we currently were, and working outwards. Then we needed to name the hurt, saying why we were in such pain. Only then could we grant forgiveness, and, finally, either renew or release the relationship.

Tutu was emphatic that no one was beyond forgiveness. Even if there was no remorse, she said, to hold on to the resentment was to stay a victim rather than move on to be a survivor.

A crisis was not necessarily a disaster, Linda Woodhead said in "The Crisis of Religion", but it was a tipping point. In the Church, there was a move from old ways of doing spirituality to new ways.

Drawing on her depth of research into religious attitudes, she said that 90 per cent of the population was broadly liberal in social attitudes, and that believers were only slightly more likely to be conservative, but that their leaderships were significantly more conservative, alienating potential adherents.

Reminding the audience that the majority of believers had never been regular churchgoers at any time in the history of the Church in Britain, she said that proven ways of engaging people were to give them a voice in their churches, to have a variety of worship on offer, and to make it more participative.

In a packed venue, with about 200 people listening from beyond the tent flaps, Dave Tomlinson charted his journey from Evangelicalism to "bad Christianity".

In a talk that interlaced stories from his ministry with the thoughts of Paul Tillich and Albert Einstein, Tomlinson said that God was not a being, but was Being itself. There were only two essential religious truths, he said. The first was that our lives were embraced in a mystery - we got occasional epiphanies of this when we gazed into a night sky, for example; and the second was that this mystery was gracious.

Einstein had said that the universe was friendly, but Tomlinson amended that to "ambiguously friendly", in the light of the pain and suffering in the world.

The Denver-based Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber (Features, 1 November 2013) spoke to a packed audience on "The Authority of Experience. . . Real Bodies, People, Events, and Trauma".

She issued a challenging call to get back to a scriptural nativity that included Herod's slaughter of the innocents. This call came out of her congregation's experience of having to deal with the Sandy Hook school killings during the Christmas season.

She continued in a similar vein, talking about the importance of genuine lament and confession, before moving on to the resurrection hope, and the need for "faith that kicks at darkness until it bleeds daylight".

In his talk "Theology of Music", the composer Steven Faux gave an engaging and thought-provoking overview of music and the part it played in theology.

Although it could evoke powerful emotions in us, it could be difficult to pin down what a particular piece of music was about, and it was often one of the most divisive topics of church life, he said.

Music took us on a journey of tension and resolution, often in different layers of music, and required patience on our part to see the journey through.

Using musical examples, Faux also explored the relationship of this journey with the story of God and his people, in the layers and complexities of life. It was a stimulating and interactive session.

"Bethlehem Comes to the Table" was an afternoon session hosted by supporters of the Palestinian people. Tourists and explorers in Bethlehem tended to "visit the dead stones rather than the living stones" (historical places rather than the Palestinian people), it was said. So it was a pleasure to listen to people who were committed to the Palestinian cause; to taste some of the food (dates, flatbreads, almonds, and hummus); and to learn about the Bet Lahem Live Festival (a kind of sister festival to Greenbelt), in Bethlehem's Old City, and the impact that it had had on the community as well as the performers.

If a parliamentary career beckons for Owen Jones, he will already have demonstrated an impressive ability to speak without notes (he confessed that his talk was on the iPad back at his hotel). In "The Politics of Hope", he sped through an indictment of the present Government's record, before giving a short history of how "everything we have was not handed down from above", but was won through the "struggle and sacrifice of ordinary people from below". He called for the nationalisation of energy and rail, and the reinvigoration of organised labour.

The first questioner accused him of delivering a "party-political broadcast" with little new content (it was a fair point). But, as a call to arms, seeking to turn back the clock on New Labour, it was energetically delivered with conviction.

With a complimentary review for his book, Atheists: the origins of the species, from The Guardian, under his belt, Nick Spencer delivered an invigorating romp from the Middle Ages through to today, explaining the evolution of atheism from the trials of clergy who denied certain doctrines to the new breed currently delivering invectives against God.

Given the ground to be covered, it was an impressive introduction to a complex subject, with plenty for academics to get their teeth into (not many of the key figures mentioned were household names), but there was a great deal, too, for curious novices.

His conclusion - one in the eye for those who predicted God's demise in the 20th century - was difficult to argue with: "Atheism is growing, because God is back."

In an era of cynicism about faith in scripture, what do we tell the children, John Bell asked.

He suggested that formation was as much as about what we did as about what we said. What children saw before they were literate - such as the woman who remembered her father coming back from the factory and praying before a picture of the cross - remained with us "until the day of our death".

We should not breed another generation that saw "disjuncture between what the Bible says and what science says", he said. Bible stories should be "inside us - part of our interior furniture". The Bible was "God's family album, which we enjoy delving into", not a "rule book".

Leaving her in no doubt of their support after she had recently come out as gay, the Big Top gave Vicky Beeching (Feature, 31 January) a prolonged standing ovation as she was introduced. In "Can We Reimagine Marriage?" she chaired a panel that consisted of Linda Woodhead, Sara Miles, and Robert Song.

Woodhead highlighted the comparative late institutional control of marriage by the Church, bringing it fully into the Church in Britain only at the Reformation. Miles related the experience of marrying her wife in the brief period when San Francisco allowed same-sex marriage, before the courts overturned the law and annulled theirs. Song outlined the possibility of a New Testament approach to covenanted partnerships that would not be based on the creation imperative of procreation, and which did not, therefore, rule out same-sex unions.

Unfortunately, the panel failed to deal in depth with each other's ideas, and did not, therefore, create a holistic picture of how marriage could be reimagined.

Michael Northcott is Professor of Ethics at the Divinity School in the University of Edinburgh. He has developed a specialism in the theology of ecology. He provided a critique of James Lovelock's assertion that climate change was due to ignorance more than negligence.

Professor Northcott took to task: those who produce palm oil; meat producers and their customers; and governments that focused on emissions targets but did not deal with root causes. The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, did not ecape, either: Professor Northcott said that Salmond was over- optimistic about the revenue to be gained from oil.

Looking to the future, he said that we could make possible William Blake's vision of "redeeming Albion" if we dealt with the real issues structurally as well as individually.

In "What Will Religion Become?", Brian McLaren began by saying that the world was composed of roughly 32 per cent Christians and 21 per cent Muslims, and that, between them, they controlled most of the world's deadly weapons. "If half the world are at each other's throats, nobody is safe," he said.

Against this background, McLaren concluded that, among the options facing religions - including avoidance, supression, elimination - the only one worth working at is partnership.

He put forward two possible ways in which to work in partnership after centuries of antipathy: continue to say the same things, louder and louder; or revisit the radicalism of the different founders. We needed to reapply our texts, our traditions, and our approach to global problems.

Given that she describes herself as "so odd" - a loner who does not love crowds, and longs to be at home - Anne Lamott had a good rapport with her audience. Funny, warm, and, above all, honest, she explained her three prayers - Help ("When you say: 'I'm done. I'm out of ideas'"); Thanks, and Wow - through anecdotes about her life as a mother, grandmother, writer, and Christian.

She read out each word as an exhalation, dramatising the emotion that inspired the prayers. She radiated empathy. "It's hard," she said at one point, and it was a while before she started speaking again. But there was an edge to her, too. When asked why she did not list "Sorry", she explained that she had said it enough over the years, partly because of the "institution".

Greenbelt often features a football-themed talk. In the past, they have been superb. Not this year: a seminar by a Guardian journalist, David Conn, about the "people's game", did not hear from the people.

Instead, we heard the speaker promote his book on the subject, and talk about how big business had taken the game over, before an hour-long monologue that was not so much spoken as read from lengthy extracts from the book.

People began leaving before the end, and the talk overran when the stewards insisted on a couple of questions from the audience. As with the origins of the game, it was all about domination by the elite: the people, again, were denied a voice.

The Roman Catholic peace activist Pat Gaffney was wearing a T-shirt on which was printed "Fly kites not drones" for her talk, "Let Us Remember: Stories of Peace From World War One".

Assisted by a few people, who read extracts of biography in character, she outlined to a mixed-age audience the history of the 16,000 consciousness objectors, and the part played by the peace movement in the First World War.

This began with feminists such as Emily Hobhouse and Sylvia Pankhurst, before moving to Socialists, including Keir Hardy, and internationalists, such as Catherine Marshall. She then examined some of the key attributes of the peace movement at that time, including being for something, not against. Finally, she examined the lessons and their relevance today.

It was not objective, and the questions and answers indicated that she was preaching to the converted, but it provided food for thought.

Alastair McIntosh's "Island Spirituality" was a journey through theological history, with reference to how it has shaped the physical and mental landscapes of Scotland, and in particular the outer Hebridean islands.

He gave a metaphor of religion as "a man-made trellis up which the vine of life should be able to grow", and said that his aim was to identify how the trellis had been damaged, and where Protestant traditions had become dysfunctional, and how we could redeem them.

The Reformation created divisions socially and theologically between the saved and the damned, he said, thanks to Calvin's theory of limited atonement. This mentality had had a pernicious effect on political structures, and the way in which power was used to delineate "us" and "them".

The task of Christianity in the current millennium, he said, was to re-explore the cross as the supreme symbol of non-violence, and find how this might change our image of God, and consequently our societies.

At the beginning of the debate "The End of Politics?", chaired by Andy Flannagan, the motion "This house believes the 2015 Election will make no difference to the future of Britain" had the support of about half the packed venue.

An hour later, it had been roundly defeated. This was, in part, due to the efforts of those opposing it: the Labour MP Gavin Shuker, and the Lib Dem representative, Pippa Morgan. Shuker gave an unapologetic defence of the political process, concluding that the motion "cedes power to those who already have it".

The proponents - Martin Newell,of the Catholic Worker Network, and Louise Donkin, of SPEAK - called for radical policies that had as much chance of making it on to a 2015 manifesto as Greenbelt had of getting a Conservative to sit on one of its panels.

The level of debate was high, but it would have been good to hear those defending the process address the policy suggestions of those on the Left (of the stage and spectrum).

When Charlotte Marshall, an advocacy worker for Kairos Britain, asked members of the audience in "Kairos Britain: Time for Action" whether they ever got tired of campaigning about Israel and the Palestinians, she was pleased and surprised to see no hands go up. One year after the launch at Greenbelt of "Time to Action: The British Response to the 2009 Kairos Document", issued by Palestinians to people of faith, the appetite for action appears undiminished.

There was powerful testimony from Mitri Raheb, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, who was now experiencing his tenth war in Gaza in 50 years.

But there seemed to be a lack of engagement with the practical questions from the floor, such as that posed by a Cardiff GP, who took his children on a march but encountered some hateful slogans and violence. Instead of addressing this issue, we were told to concentrate on the violence perpetrated by the Israeli State.

An enjoyable range of speakers took to the stage for "GTV Short Talks" - ten-minute slots that covered topics from introversion to national identity, gender roles to atheism. A highlight was Kate Bottley's entertaining and energetic take on the realities of being a vicar. Her take-home message: be auth-entic, even if that means being boring - the most boring people are those trying too hard not to be. The introduction by the mediator and Greenbelt CEO Beccie D'Cunha to conflict resolution was insightful and cheerful.

Café Psychologique was a space for group discussion based on the argument that we are most whole collectively, sharing experiences and resources that no individual could amass on their own.

A few people shared their thoughts on a psychology-related topic, and conversation developed from there. Everyone was free to stand up and contribute.

A blend of subjects was explored, including body-and-mind connections, the insidious impact of social structures, the atomisation of Western society, and - perhaps most intriguingly - the part played by spirituality and the Church.

The open-ended group dynamic made the process as significant as the content. Many different voices, of all ages and backgrounds, were heard.

In "Can Kale Save?" Sara Miles said that shehad no time for food fascists: that is, those who made a dogma out of food's provenance. The sharing of food, she said, was at the heart of the gospel, which meant that ideas of purity about who ate what, and with whom, went out of the window.

"Scripture is full of food," she said, "and it's meant for everybody . . . Eating with Jesus means that there will always be someone inappropriate at the table."

Miles argued that this spirit should extend beyond the meal-table to the altar. We needed to be more generous with communion, which was too often "doled out stingily". "You can't buy communion; you don't deserve it; you can't get a truffle-coated luxury version of it; and you can't eat it alone." She ended: "Eucharist is eating as if life depends on it."

"Cracking Up Cracking On", a panel of creative people with mental-health issues, was hosted by the artist Bobby Baker, and featured a comedian, Jo Enright, a musician, RM Hubbert, and a mental-health consultant, Miriam Hodson.

The large crowd demonstrated how important the issue was to those affected by mental-health issues and those offering them pastoral care. Members of the panel spoke about their experiences, and responded to questions from the audience.

There was some gold in the session, including insights that were useful for sufferers and supporters, such as the centrality of prayer, family, and friends to some people's well-being. The session was somewhat meandering, however, making it informative, but leaving more questions than it answered.

In "Like Father, Like Daughter", Richard Burridge interviewed Mpho Tutu about her father's legacy.

The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation manages an archive, keeps track of 300 organisations that bear the Tutu name, and supports projects to help the planet and its people prosper.

The interview was punctuated by video footage of Desmond Tutu speaking. Mpho's reactions revealed that she shared her father's infectious humour: "He is very hard to be angry with . . . but I can figure out how."

She recalled being taken along as a child when her mother negotiated her father's release from police cells after anti-apartheid activity: "Usually by the time we arrived they were pleading with us to take him away."

By 3.30 p.m. on Sunday, the interfaith panel of three people, who were discussing women and equality, had expanded to nine representatives of the Abrahamic faiths.

Sarah Snyder, who chaired the discussion, explained the process of scriptural reasoning, which is less an ecumenical encounter seeking commonality than an honest conversation through which different faiths better understood their disagreements and divergence.

Passages from the sacred scriptures of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity were read, context-ualised, and questioned for clari- fication by the panel before the participants discussed them in small groups.

By this point in the weekend, fatigue had set in, and audience numbers dwindled, but this allowed plenty of time for questions and answers from those particularly keen on interfaith theological dialogue.

Some years before Loretta Minghella became chief executive of Christian Aid,shewas at a meeting of heads of insurance firms. A scientist addressing the meeting asked them how far above sea level their homes were, and then shocked them by revealing that, owing to climate change, many of those homes would be underwater in 100 years.

If the impact in this country will be profound, the impact on the world's poorest people will be devastating. Forget about making poverty history, Minghella said; climate change could make poverty permanent.

Looking forward to two key summits of world leaders in 2015 -New York in September, and Paris in December - Minghella urged us to impress on politicians the urgent need for action.

Kit Beazley is the UK head of finance at the Triodos Bank, a Greenbelt associate. He argued for transparency in banking, and a reconnection with the decisions about to whom our money should be lent (Triodos, which currently lends only to businesses, lists all those it finances on its website).

He also challenged his audience to be concerned about what type of business activity their bank deposits financed. He defended investments in some companies that were causing controversy, such as Google and H&M, saying that Google had satisfied Triodos that it was not breaking the law, and that H&M always dealt with ethical problems identified in its supply chain.

The sociologist Linda Woodhead was joined by the Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Jane Shaw, and the journalist Andrew Brown,to discuss whether the Church of England was worth saving.

Shaw thought that, at its best, its buildings and liturgy could be a source of beauty, and it was the social conscience of the nation, although Brown believed that these elements were precisely the ones that were no longer sustainable.

The editor of the Church Times, Paul Handley, asked what would happen if nothing changed. Woodhead thought that there would be steady decline, but Brown predicted more disruptive change.

The last word went to Sally Hitchiner, who founded Diverse Church to help the LGBT students whom she met as a university chaplain. She said that many of them were committed to the Church of England, even though it had hurt them in the past.

Jacqui Lavelle, from the North East Gay Asylum Group, led a community-engagement session, "Seeking Sanctuary, Sexuality and Staying Safe".

None of the asylum-seekers whom she had hoped would attend had felt able to. But Lavelle outlined the issues involved in sanctuary, and the flaws in the system which meant that most are not believed to be either LGBT, or at risk.

She said that 93 per cent of LGBT people were initially turned down, compared with 70 per cent of asylum-seekers as a whole. A majority of both sorts of case failed on appeal.

As the discussion unfolded, there was applause for ideas such as building links with cabin crews and pilots. Attention was also brought to the plight of women who were scared to mention that they had children, for fear of not being believed to be gay - a fear too often justified, because the complexity of LGBT journeys and experience is not understood.

Although it was far from a balanced discussion of the issues, it was, none the less, inspiring.

A relaxing, sunny Sunday afternoon stretch-out on the grass in front of the Glade stage, offered lunch accompanied by a challenging talk by John Bell.

Bell traced the Church's historical relationship with creation, arguing that Fathers and theologians of the Early Church often gave creation-care as much importance as preach- ing the gospel.

He went on to call the West's throwaway culture and damaging approach to the environment an expression of its opposition to God, and a disfigurement of his created order.

This attitude was just as common in the churches, Bell said. Christians were sleepwalking through lifestyles characterised by habit and practices that mar the creation of the God we claim to believe in.

Ian Mobsby and Vanessa Elston, from a new Anglican monastic community in London, Moot, put three questions to an audience gathered around tables: What does living well mean for you? How does your spirituality inform your pattern of life? What do you think monastic spirituality and rhythm of life have to offer us?

This was the cue for a series of animated conversations that went beyond the typical, polite, group interaction. From the feedback, many were clearly exercised by the desire to find some kind of rhythm in their lives that would make room for reflection, and provide an alternative to crammed schedules and uneven lives. "Maybe, instead of seizing the moment, we need to let the moment seize us."

The title of the talk "Why Can't My Dog Take Communion?" was a deliberate tease, but not without relevance. Ruth Ruderham charmed a slightly bemused audience with a mini-memoir, tracing her life as an achiever who had, in a number of guises - including evangelism, acc- ountancy, fund-raising, and activism - attempted to save the world.

Driving this pilgrimage has been a quest to find "what it is that makes life worth living, and how we find our place in the world". This led her to question the orthodoxy that humans are superior, and then to ask the question that formed the title of her talk.

Ruderham believed that the environmental movement shared many motivations with Christians, but that it could teach the Church a lesson about asking much harder questions of itself.

Nadia Bolz-Weber and Sara Miles are two very different women who work in very different Churches in the US. But what they agreed on was that strangers were important. Newcomers shook up the status quo, and made us uncomfortable, but they also brought renewal, and we sidelined them at our peril.

In "Salvation and the Inconvenience of Other People", Miles and Bolz-Weber shared the ways in which their communities sought to "glorify the stranger", and embrace the unexpected, such as giving liturgical roles to first-timers, even if they might not do it very well. This sprang from their deep-seated belief that everyone was welcome; that this was Jesus's table, not ours.

The panel for the discussion "We're Not an Issue, We're a Gift" comprised the poet Pádraig Ó Tuama; thefounder of the Food Pantry in San Francisco; Sara Miles; the banker and activist Karl Rutlidge; and the CEO of LGCM, Tracey Byrne. It was chaired by the Anglican priest Rachel Mann, who began by saying that this was "the morning the gays take over the Big Top".

The aim of the session was to allow LGBT people to discuss the positive contribution they made to the Church, and what was holding them back. It was a discussion rooted in experience, although this was confined to historic denominations. During the question session, there were Pentecostal voices from the floor - what a pity that these were not included in the panel.

In the second "Scriptural Reas- oning" talk, this time on Noah, the interfaith panel discussed two passages: Beresheit (Genesis) 7.1-5, where the animals enter the ark, and Hud 11.28-32, from the Qur'an.

The audience discovered through their questions that Noah was considered "the best of a bad bunch" by Jews, but a perfect and righteous prophet by Muslims. We also found that, although in the Torah Noah says very little, he talks a great deal in the Qur'an.

Professor Tina Beattie described the Isenheimaltarpiece, a harrowing crucifixion by Grünewald, as "the greatest work of Christian art ever painted." She backed up this claim with a comprehensive and inspiring exposition of the work. Her main quest, however, was to trace the painting's influences on contemporary art.

She cited works by Graham Sutherland, George Grosz, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, and Otto Dix, as well as a contemporary piece by Adel Abdessemed, Décor. She also spoke of a tapestry made by patients at an AIDS clinic in South Africa, the Keiskamma altarpiece, which echoes, in a contemporary setting, the spirit of the Grünewald. It was described by the clinic's director as "a turning-point in our community's relationship with HIV and AIDS . . . embodying not just our fears and our losses, but the slow restora- tion of hope in our community."

The informal session "Possible World: Hospitality", by CMS, broadened our horizons on hospit ality. Drawing from Luke 10, when Jesus encouraged his disciples to go out, bring peace to others, and be guests, we explored what it meant to be good guests in others' homes, and in our community.

There was a discussion about laying aside our own agendas, creating space for other people to help enable their flourishing, empowerment, and discovery.

The speakers also drew on the insights of Henri Nouwen and Michael Mann, exploring the sacramental nature of sharing food and drink with others.


LIVE music at Greenbelt began with a blast: two trumpets, two saxophones, a trombone, a sousaphone, and two drummers, who make up the Hackney Colliery Band.

Arrangements of familiar and novel tunes fizzed with energy, perfectly blended. But it was a pity that the crowd was not warmed up. Perhaps exhausted from setting up tents and acclimatising to the new venue, most spectators lounged on the grass while a handful danced to the music.

It is hoped that Greenbelt will give them a later slot next year, when more people are likely to join in with singing and dancing.

Four-times winners of the Best Band at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Lau seemed to appeal to churchgoing culture-vultures, judg- ing by some of the conversations overheard in the audience.

The three-piece band featured electro-accordian, a 1950s Rickenbacker guitar, and an electric violin (other instruments were occasionally introduced), along with lyrics con- cerned with friendship, mercy, and love of your neighbour.

Hints of the Irish folk act The Dubliners gave way near the end to riffs on "God Save the Bees". As the sun set on the Glade stage, it beat any church recital.

The solo singer-songwriter Jess Morgan was the first to open the new Canopy stage (the reborn Performance Café), under tall trees by the main lawn of Boughton Hall.

Returning after a wonderful set last year, Morgan brought a familiar voice to the venue. Her delicate singing and friendly storytelling revealed a powerful poetic voice.

Her set included old favourites such as "Eels", and songs from her new album, such as "Modern World",and "Bat and Mouse Blues", the doomed love story of a mouse who falls in love with a bat. "Freckles in the Sun", inspired by her recent experience running in Brooklyn while touring in North America, brought a touch of Stateside to the rural idyll of Greenbelt's new home.

Listening to Stornoway close the Glade stage on Friday night, it was surprising how many of their songs echoed this year's theme, "Travelling Light", from "Fuel Up" from their debut album Beachcomber's Windowsill to the not-yet-released "The Road You Didn't Take".

They started the set with many of their older tracks; and "Zorbing", which might have been expected as the finale, came a third of the way through (dedicated to "all those who have tripped over a molehill today").

They moved on to their later, and not so instantly catchy songs in the last half of the set, although a drum solo and prog rock instrumental suddenly morphed into a more experimental and slower-paced "I Saw You Blink". The air of the whole set was not so much folk pop as wistful reflection.

Next were The Chaplins, a chirpy three-piece band all the way from Glasgow, with a retro look and a vintage soapbox sound. Playing mostly their own quirky, upbeat love songs, they gave "Young Hearts Run Free" a wistful new twist, and brought the house down with the chorus of "I Want To Know What Love Is".

The drummer, Lisa, together with John on the double bass, and the lead singer, Jill, on rhythm guitar, set down an infectious rhythm to make feet shuffle and hands clap. The addition of harmonica, bass spins, flat cap, and a washboard solo is a recipe for music that cannot help but make you smile. Greenbelt wel- comed them with open arms. Cathy Burton launched her fifth album, Searchlight, at this year's Greenbelt. Burton admitted to feeling nervous, returning to a full-band format after performing acoustic sets at previous festivals, but the amplified accompaniment did justice to her powerful vocal performance.

She yearned like a psalmist in "Gun", demonstrating, when she sang the album's title track, her strength and stamina as a singer. There was a good mix of praise and the personal: she sang songs dedic- ated to her parents and children, alongside enough old favourites to keep the crowd of devoted fans happy.

Yvonne Lyon, fresh from touring with Eddi Reader, packed out the Canopy stage, pleasing the crowd with old favourites such as "Everything's Fine", and songs from her recent sixth album, These Small Rebellions, whose title was partly inspired by words of Mother Teresa.

She was accompanied alternately by her own piano-and-guitar-playing, and by an accordion that she rightly called "simply joy in a box". As ever, her stories between numbers were delightful, bringing even greater depth and colour. To quote her own lyrics, when Lyon plays "heaven has a way of some- times sneaking up on you."

Joyful, silly Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies delighted all with their well-crafted tunes, tight harmonies, and audience parti- cipation. From being a pirate to banning the bomb, they covered the range of human experience in their songs, including a tender ballad or two.

Andy Mort, the heart of Atlum Schema, is something of a musical chameleon. When he last played Greenbelt, two years ago, his sound was different, and not particularly inspiring.

This year was something of a revelation - the sound was de- cidedly more haunting and reflective. Songs and arrangements were creative and inventive, including the use of a loop pedal to add depth to the tone. People were gradually drawn to the Canopy stage to hear him, as his music floated out into the trees of the Dell. It made for a perfect Saturday afternoon.

The new recording artist Luke Sital-Singh has played the festival before on a couple of occasions, and referred to one of Greenbelt's trustees, Martin Wroe, as a personal friend, using the words of Wroe's poem "Dark" as the lyrics to a song of the same name, in an ode to God. He delivered an accomplished set, switching between piano and guitar to perform a series of heartfelt ballads. When accompanied, judiciously, by a stunning choir, his music has a spritual edge, which has purity and conviction.

His ordinary-bloke-between-songs schtick grated after a while, however: starting a gig by swearing at your audience and updating them about your bodily functions suggests that an artist either fears an audience, or lacks respect for it.

With a new album just released, he displayed potential for greatness, provided he steers clear of the shock-jock impressions.

With Gaggle, Greenbelters were promised a "weird women's choir", and that was what they got. The ragged band took to the stage in what looked like clown pyjamas made of sleeping bags, with painted faces.

Stomping and bouncing, their music - mostly just voices and a drum kit - was quite shouty. It had bold and basic harmonies, like tribal war-songs from a post-civilised dystopia. It has received praise and accolades from such sources as the NME, and has recorded with Radio 1, but some of the audience did not really "get it", and retreated to the Jesus Arms.

The son of the US preacher Becca Stevens and singer-songwriter Marcus Hummon, Levi Hummon has good connections. It is just as well, as he lost his guitar en route to Greenbelt, and had to borrow one from Garth Hewitt.

Apart from briefly forgetting his lyrics at one point, Hummon displayed remarkable calmness and assurance. Referencing Jesus and St Peter in the song "Push and Shove", and a cover of "Free Fallin'", and in lyrics such as "Don't think it weak To turn the other cheek", Hummon revealed that his songs of faith and doubt are often performed in American honky-tonk bars rather than Christian settings.

A sensitive songwriter of Americana, akin to Arlo Guthrie, he is one to watch in the future, especially when he goes down to the river to pray.

The rap artist Dizraeli and his band defied the rain at the main Glade stage on Saturday evening. Fusing influences from jazz, blues, folk, and grime, the collective has a distinctive urban sound. Dizraeli himself is very much front and centre, but his band is talented, too: a double bass, viola, a DJ, drums, and some sort of electronic kazoo offered subtle touches.

Political and witty lyrics enhanced the show; in response to the marginalisation of the LGBT community, the Bristolian proclaimed: "Kiss and hold hands. Do stuff to each other in public", to cheers of approval from the crowd.

Scotland is currently the Zeitgeist; so a hard-hitting hip-hop presentation from a band from north of the border (Stanley Odd) had plenty of relevance.

A male and female pair of singers/rappers, with a keyboardist with a passing resemblance to Olly Murs, Stanley Oddwas complemented by bass, guitar, and drums, and the Scottish accents gave the vocals an interesting edge over the usual rap delivery.

Concerns about the "demon drink" gave way to political commentary - not about the various arguments pertaining to Scottish independence (or lack of it), but of the current (Westminster) governance.

No punches were pulled on the NHS, "bedroom tax", or austerity measures, with lines such as: "I'd rather dance with the poets Than bank on a bonus." Russell Brand, footballers' wives, and tabloid newspapers accrued the wrath of the rap, too. But the ire of Stanley Odd was ultimately reserved for the false machismo of gangsta rap.

The BBC Radio presenter Gilles Peterson's international reputation as a DJ precedes him. Given his background in the underground Mod scene, perhaps it was not surprising to find a group of neo-Mods at the Glade stage, resplendent in desert boots and centre partings, amid people in clerical collars, and teenage girls with flowers in their hair.

Dancing on grass is not easy, but Peterson's selection of choice Latin rhythms mixed with contemporary beats - along with chants of "Hallelujah" from Brazilian worship - had the crowd on its feet.

An excellent set was briefly disrupted by a tech malfunction, the sudden silence unexpectedly filled by the strains of "How Great Thou Art" from drinkers in the Jesus Arms near by. Sometimes, things happen at Greenbelt that probably wouldn't happen elsewhere.

A bigger crowd would have been appreciated by all. Perhaps an evening slot would have been more appropriate?

On Sunday, the Canopy stage was too small for the size of the audience that wanted to watch the Leicester-based singer-songwriter Grace Petrie, with her band The Benefits Culture.

It's the fourth year she has played the festival, and a good chunk of the audience knew her well enough to sing along to her opener "They Shall Not Pass".

Petrie has a large repertoire of good material; so it was a pity that the banter dominated: the number of songs was quite low. The mix between politics and love songs was about right, but strong numbers such as "Farewell to Welfare" were noticeably missing.

The appreciative audience left disappointed as venue rules meant that no encore was possible.

The Apirana Quartet - Steve, Ainsley, Molly, and Reuben - surprised and delighted its audience. Ainsley's warm-hearted humour and silliness allowed listeners to feel part of the act. A kooky version of "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" was followed by songs with thick harmonies, haunting melodies, and unique rhythms.

Sinéad O'Connor was the biggest name that Greenbelt has had for a while, and it was important that her set on Sunday night went well. It did. The singer and her band were very impressive, very tight, and drew a large and sympathetic crowd, aware of the troubles O'Connor has endured during her career.

The music was eminently danceable to,although the audience, by and large, stood and listened. They might have appreciated some acknowledgement from O'Connor from time to time, but the singer left it to her confessional lyrics to do the talking.

The emotional range matched O'Connor's vocal prowess. There was anger, anguish, and tenderness. Her biggest hit, "Nothing Compares 2U", came halfway through the set, as befits a 24-year-old song. An a capella folk song with her two female band members was particularly touching. And she ended with a gentle Irish lullaby by way of farewell.

From the first lilting note of the set by Wednesday's Wolves, the deceptively simple sound of this female duo filled the Canopy stage with a deliciously mellow vibe as night fell on Sunday.

The blend of harmonies over a mix of guitar and Cajun or glockenspiel almost felt like one voice singing with itself. The two singers, Ysabelle Durant and Chrissy Renker, musically leaned into each other with such grace that the music they produced created a haunting sense of peace.

Putting The Cut Ups in the Big Top - the five-piece punk combo from Exeter, who are used to small clubs and the back rooms of pubs - was an interesting and perhaps misjudged choice. The venue was not empty, but it was by no means full, and it lacked the intimacy that groups such as this require.

A few teenagers jumped about at the front, but most of the mid-twenties-to-mid-fifties audience stood further back as the guitars smashed out their sound.

Despite their proclaimed affection for Fugazi, they exemplify just how far the Small Faces' influence has come, with Marriottesque guitar-breaks puncturing their best songs. Along with the DIY, counter-cultural vibe, there was also a grunge influence from Nirvana's Nevermind era.

But the energetic, punchy social commentary railing against scapegoating, religious prejudice, and other societal ills didn't allow the songs to get too dark or introspective - a blessed relief.

Luke Leighfield was back once again at Greenbelt, on the Canopy stage on Monday, with some new material as well as old favourites. With its pop/rock piano and vocals, Leighfield's music has an Indie feel and his material is often politically motivated.

His performance was enthusiastic and friendly, creating an atmosphere in which he and the audience were at ease with each other.

Coming on as the festival's last act on Monday in the Big Top, after the upbeat Nashville sound of Marcus and Levi Hummon, Martyn Joseph joked: "that's enough happy tunes."

It is true that he finds a lot to be upset about: the suppression of the 1831 Merthyr rising; the greed of bankers; the inequality of American incomes; the occupation of Palestine; the Daily Mail. . . And yet he is always so happy on the stage at Greenbelt.

Perhaps, like the Palestinian father who lost five daughters in an Israeli attack that Joseph sings about, he feels he cannot afford the "luxury of despair". Instead, he is doing something about it. He used his set to publicise the organisation Let Yourself Trust, which he has set up to support social-justice projects around the world, beginning with a children's theatre in a refugee camp in Bethlehem.


PATIENCE AGBABI drew in a sizeable crowd to the Playhouse, despite the sudden drop in temperature on Friday evening. Greenbelters were undeterred by the clouds of steaming breath as she recited from Telling Tales, her updated version of The Canterbury Tales.

Agbabi has taken Chaucer's stories and translated them into poetry, describing modern-day figures - the Pardoner becomes a French-Canadian lifestyle coach, the Wife of Bath a Nigerian murderess, selling headscarves with a smile.

Funny, insightful, and at times poignant, Agbabi evolved through a variety of Londoners, not shying away from darker subjects such as rape, knife crime, or assault. She became each character - a haughty socialite one minute, a Grime artist the next - providing an engaging reimagining of one of the best-known literary works.

The "Lyrical" session at the Canopy stage brought a diverse mix of poetic talent - spoken and sung - to this homely venue. Martin Wroe introduced the poets Pádraig Ó Tuama and Rhian Roberts, as well as established favourites from past years, including Andrew Howie and Yvonne Lyon (who got every- one singing).

The poetic mix was a real taste of the varied menu that Greenbelt has to offer. What's more, it is possible to relive the laughter and wisdom in an associated book, Lyrical, with poems from the five poets featured in the sessions.

For a writer of her experience, Anne Lamott's advice is down to earth and reassuring. In "Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" she told a packed tent of would-be writers: "Everyone's a mess; everyone's faking it."

She said that writing was a matter simply of travelling yard by yard, as far as the headlights lit up the road ahead. "Inspiration is meaningless," she said. "You don't want to be struck by lightning in a mystical way. Just keep your butt in the chair."

It was important to make mistakes, too, she said. "It's very scary to do things badly, but you have to. I have a first draft at home. If you saw it, you'd say: 'That's awful: I wonder if she has a brain tumour, because it doesn't make sense.'"

Ultimately, she said, writing was about telling the truth about what was in front of you. "Tell us the truth. And if you have a sense of humour, we pay extra."

Pádraig Ó'Tuama's poetry is greatly enhanced by his voice: lilting, gentle, and with an author's deliberate timing and cadence. At times self-effacing, but always generous-spirited, he takes a sideways glance at the times when certainty comes unstuck.

Poems covered questions of identity, dignity, nationality, conflict, family, imagination, sexuality, persecution, and notions of home, always with a deft hand and an elegant turn of phrase.

Between poems, Ó'Tuama recalled touching and amusing moments (usually involving his mother), and crafted a reassurance that discovery, not certainty, makes us kinder.

Whether storytelling or reading his work, this poet's wordsmithing conjures compelling images, and strikes a resonant chord that appeals to something deep in all of us.

Tenx9 is a story-telling experience led by Ó'Tuama. Nine people tell stories from their own lives for up to ten minutes. On Saturday evening, the theme was change. Nadia Bolz-Weber talked about experiencing panic attacks in Jericho; and Ian Mosby, from Moot, spoke of his first day as an occupational therapist, and an embarrassing incident with a nun.

A woman told of her house being damaged in a gas explosion, and a socialist, synesthesiac banker talked of his transition from female to male, providing some comic moments in his hard journey of change.

The Canopy on Sunday afternoon showcased four performance poets who were each entertaining and profound in their own ways. Harry Baker compèred charmingly, and had the audience rolling with laughter at Phil and his falafel Löeffel (spoon in German), while Zia Ahmed gave us edgy and engaging reflections on police officers' smiling while racial profiling.

Dizraeli was energetic, musical, and had the audience standing up to bust a groove to his beat-boxing; and Kareem Brown brought a sense of absurdist affection to memories of his Pentecostal upbringing. Both paid lyrical tribute to friends who had passed on.

Four very different men had engaged with the deep stuff of what makes us human, in creative and honest ways.

Sydney Carter is best known for his school-assembly hymns "Lord of the Dance" and "When I Needed a Neighbour", but in "Get Carter" John Davies (re)introduced the audience to the other half of a career in protest-folk.

With help from Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies, who showcased the songs, Davies told of a man whose music was as provocative to adults as it was accessible to children.

In Carter's "The Devil" he sang "The Devil wore a Crucifix, 'The Christians they are right' The Devil said 'so let us burn A heretic tonight . . .' The stars and stripes or swastika The crescent or a star The Devil he will wear them all, no matter what they are. . ." Carter was subsequently banned from the American military hymn-book, leaving him to wonder why he had ever been included in the first place.

Describing himself as "an enthusiast, not an expert", Davies relocated the musician a long way from the school hall, and made a convincing case for reappraisal.

"George Herbert: Poems That Can Seriously Damage Your Atheism", by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, interwove testimony with readings from the Collected Works, and explained how Herbert's poems had played a pivotal part in her journey from proud atheist, tormenting the school CU, to priest in the Church of England.

Her own story is fascinating - an attempt to pray at university triggered a vivid experience of the presence of God - and her affection for the poems is infectious.

A lovely moment came at the end of the session, when a deaf member of the audience explained that the end of "The Collar", which Threlfall-Holmes dislikes, was very moving when delivered in sign language. Its repetition on stage drew applause, underlining the speaker's point that "tasting", emotion, and experience were as important as intellectual assay.

Monday's performance-poetry showcase featured the talented Josh Idehen, Vanessa Kisuule, and Hobbit the beatboxer. Presented by Harry Baker, the showcase was entertaining and emotional.

The poems covered topics such as dinosaur love, the London riots, family, and Gandalf. The young performers captured the hearts of an all-age audience, and had people crying with laughter and clapping along. The showcase pushed the boundaries of traditional poetry, and in many cases the poems seemed more like raps.

Baker is fast becoming a Greenbelt favourite, and his shows are a must-see for next year. 


AT FIRST glance, the black-cloaked singers and soft harp accom- paniment of nChant could have seemed quaint, but, given the chance, this women's choir created a calm and undemanding space for spiritual reflection. The gentle, re- laxing liturgy led the listener in quiet thought.

Challenging theology this was not, but the simple, medieval-inspired melodies were easy to pick up and sing along to, and the evening prayers fulfilled their purpose: to encourage members of the congregation to entrust their day to God, and trust him for a restful night.

The closing chant was particularly striking, both in its message and compelling harmony, and instilled a contemplative mood as the audience left the service.

The Waning Moon ritual, led by the East Midlands Forest Church, was described as a time of banishing and cleansing, leading to healing and restoration. Gathering in the outdoor Grove venue after dark presented some challenges for access, and, although not very close to the main music stage, it was difficult to hear above the band Stornoway.

Leaders adapted to the circumstances, and shortened some of the silences between the reflections, which brought together wisdom from pagan and Christian traditions (perhaps pushing beyond the boundaries for some).

Participants were offered the chance to lay down burdens, and were served oatcakes and grape juice with the words: "Drink, so that none may go thirsty." Those seeking a quiet end to the evening might well have been left wanting, though, because of the technical challenges.

Oasis Church Grimsby reflected on "The Wisdom of Black Elk", a Sioux American whose life straddled the 19th and 20th centuries. There were readings from his teaching, and the Lord's Prayer and the Magnificat were chanted as the smoke of burning sage wafted.

Black Elk converted to Christianity, despite the oppression of those who brought it to his lands. He worshipped Jesus as Wakan Tanka (the Great Mysterious One). He was devoted to all that was circular in life, nature, and faith, and died a broken man having been allocated a square house in the reservation on which he was forced to live.

The Christian Feminist Network's "A Response To Violence Against Women" was an uncom-promising event.

Although there was a nod towards alternative worship, with bright-green string being thrown around while Natalie Collins was giving information on global violence against women, it was mainstream in liturgy and music. Jody Stowell used responsive prayers by Jan Berry, and Monique Thomas sang.

The predominantly female audience seemed to be moved most by Thomas's "Doing Time", a song she wrote after listening to a woman serving time in prison for the manslaughter of an abusive partner.

It was not all gloom, however; their message ended with hope, smiling, and clapping as Thomas led "Daughter Shine" from her album Unbroken.

It has been said that the created world around us is the second book of God. In "Sensio Divina", Bruce Stanley, a pioneer of the Forest Church movement, facilitated an exercise that encouraged us to use our many senses (which are more than just five) to engage with the world around us, and to use our intuition, imagination, and creativity to listen to what God is saying to us.

The interactive session en- couraged participants to feed back to one another the challenges of experiencing this exercise for the first time, as well as sharing how God spoke, in profound and varied ways. Participants even took a postcard away with guidance notes, to try to connect with the natural world in a deeper way all over again.

"Ashes to Ashes" was a service billed as evensong, facilitated by Dyffryn Clwyd's Forest Church, but it did not feature a choir, or congregational singing. Instead, participants were invited to feel the song of the earth, in bare feet.

A sound track was unexpectedly, and accidentally, provided by the hip-hop artist Stanley Odd , who was performing at the nearby Glade stage near by. And what could have been a rude interruption formed a surprisingly appropriate audible representation of the earth's heartbeat and harmonies.

Although it drew on the formal liturgical texts of Ash Wednesday, this act of worship was firmly planted in creation spirituality and Franciscan theology. Dyffryn Clwyd's Forest Church prayed at the interface between God's people and creation.

Sitting on top of the hill that became the Mount venue gave a great view of the festival, and the feeling of having made a special journey. In "Sermons on the Mount", Pádraig Ó'Tuama opened his "sermon" there with a comment on the literary style of the Gospels, and musings on what constitutes "pure in heart".

Nadia Bolz-Weber's thoughts called into question the idea that the Beatitudes outline the conditions for blessing, and urged listeners to proclaim God's sovereignty in sufferings, too. Doug Gay offered a poetic sermon entirely composed in beatitudes; and Paul Field's songs between the speakers made powerful mini-sermons in their own right. A varied and nourishing banquet of thought.

A packed audience for the Big Sing was reminiscent of the BBC TV series Last Choir Standing, and John Bell proved a suitable Scottish equivalent to Gareth Malone.

Bell's charismatic conducting of late-night worshippers transported festivalgoers to Iona, the |Holy Land, South Africa, and Mozambique, as the Wild Goose Collective guided the audience - in singing harmonies, call-and-response, and in the round - in worship songs from around the world.

The audience was reminded that, in many languages, the word "music" is translated as movement, as well as sound, and that, to our detriment, much of the Western Church has lost touch with the physical expression of worship.

But the refrain to the final chorus, "Hallelujah, Hallelujah", was continued spontaneously, a cappella, by the crowd, who were then encouraged to keep it going as they left:a symbol, indeed, of worship on the move.

The Sunday-morning comm- union service was not exactly the Grand Ole Opry, but there was a distinctively country feel this year. This was not surprising, given that Becca Stevens and her husband, Marcus Hummon - both from Nashville - played a prominent part: she preaching and presiding, and he leading the music.

But it was an earthed country without sentimentality, acknowledging, with admirable directness, the darkness and weight of suffering in the world, before allowing the positive aspects of Greenbelt's "Travelling Light" theme to break through.

This felt more like an adult church service than previous, more ob- viously inventive, occasions: it centred on carefully chosen words, and vibrant music, and included a children's choir, which the con- gregation evidently warmed to. If anything was missing it was visual, and the interactive elements.

Mpho Tutu led a measured meditation on forgiveness, interspersed with references to her book. "The path of forgiveness is not an easy one," she said, and the "route is not marked clearly". None the less, it was "nothing less than the way we heal the world".

Stevens, in her address, told the story of Shauna, who, at the age of 15, after a history of being trafficked, had a tattoo across her chest saying, "Trust no one". Stevens said that it took a loving community to help lighten this burden of mistrust.

Only by travelling together, she said, can we "create a lavish tapestry of love from our meagre swatches of cloth". If we do this, then "we can become a movement able to bear the burdens of others."

The service "Earth: Elemental Celebration", led by St Albans' Forest Church, began with every participant pulling up a clump of grass and examining the dirt on the roots. The idea was to connect the idea of earth with the divine.

There were a number of children in the group, which assembled among the trees at the festival site; so there was a hint of Sunday school in the Q&A session that followed, as we identified earthy elements and ingredients.

The audience chanted to the beat of a drum: "Ground of our being; source of our life", and made creatures out of clay that might act as iconic metaphors for the divine. We shared our creations with each other, and built descriptions of our clay creatures into a reprise of the chant. It was good to get our hands dirty.

The Guild of Health and Holy Rood House led a gentle service of healing, justice, and peace on Sunday afternoon. There was a simple liturgy, music, and reflection on the words of Jesus: "What do you want me to do for you?", with the recognition that we have our part to play in responding to the divine invitation to wholeness. We were also invited to see the Church as a therapeutic community of healers - a vision of powerful potential.

Messy, chaotic, and almost too problematic even for Greenbelt, Beer and Hymns is, nevertheless, a fixture. Sometimes, like last year, it was on the programme; this year, it was "unofficial", although the bar staff seemed remarkably unsurprised as it took over the Jesus Arms on Sunday afternoon.

The liturgy of Beer and Hymns is as immutable as the 1662 BCP. Beer is bought, and held aloft in charismatic praise during hymn choruses, before being drunk during the verses. At the appropriate time, the president shall call out in a loud voice: "We will now sing 'Shine Jesus Shine'", and the congregation shall cheer or boo as it sees fit. And at the first time of asking, it shall not be sung, but at the second, it shall be. And we shall finish by singing: "O Lord my God" at maximum volume, until our voices crack.

The Moot monastic community of London facilitated an Ignatian meditation on the Trinity, drawing on Christ's baptism. Those wh attended began by preparing themselves through breathing, and stilling hearts and minds, before being led into the accepting and affirming presence of the triune God. The vibe was peaceful and laid back, and people were able to engage with the meditation.

In a later service, Moot, using the traditional service of Tenebrae - where a series of candles is gradually extinguished, one by one, after a reading or reflection - interspersed songs from Taizé with Bible readings, poems, and reflections, as well as periods of silence. Sadly, although the service focused on darkness, it was lit rather brightly in the evening sun, so that the power of the symbol of the candles' being extinguished was somewhat lost.

The popularity of the service clearly exceeded expectations: the number of service sheets available meant that those on the periphery had no copy of the music. This did not seem to cause dismay, as there was a wonderful sense of holy quietness on the Mount, in contrast to the exuberance and noise of the rest of the festival, which could be viewed from this vantage point.

The King/Cave Project's "Jazz Messiah" featured shining moments of praise and performance. Movements from the album Handel's Messiah: A soulful celebration, by Quincy Jones, were dynamic and joyful, but these sat uncomfortably next to Handel's originals, and new arrangements.

Among the vocal soloists, introduced by first name only, Lori shone out. Other musicians in the ensemble struggled across the demanding range. Ultimately, en- thusiasm won through, and, by the end, the rebooted "Hallelujah Chorus" had the crowd on its feet ,dancing and clapping.

The Community of St Aidan and St Hilda is a new monastic body, which is dispersed across the country. In "Travelling Light" they offered four minutes of prayer as a model for a realistic daily routine of drawing close to the Trinity of Love.

The meditation drew attention to the vast lime trees of the Boughton House estate. They lose absolutely everything, to go bare throughout winter. How can they afford to do this, and yet keep on living? The reason is because their roots go so deep.

A chant was repeated again and again: "Neither death nor life, nor anything in all creation, can keep us from the love of Christ."

Orpheus was a piece of landscape art, a steep and deep rectangular grassy depression in the ground, with a path along its sides winding down to the pool at the bottom. It was a natural labyrinth, where two groups set up prayer stations on successive days: Grace, on Saturday, and Transcendence on Sunday (Beyond, on Monday, was washed out).

Grace led participants on a via negativa pathway down, and a journey of hope back up, allowing the setting to speak for itself by using nothing more than index cards, beads, and headphones at listening stations.

Transcendence explored light using more traditional stations such as icons and bubble blowing, finishing by launching boats containing candles on to the pond.

Taizé at Greenbelt had become a little too much of a performance - the venue and the dominance of musicians meant that it did not work as a collective act of worship. The balance was redressed this year, as the congregation packed together in a tent with the rain beating down outside.

Great care was taken to encourage participation, and the chants were briefly rehearsed. The result was a nourishing time spent together, including ten minutes during which a profound silence was created in the tent, despite the noise of the festival going on outside.

The rain meant that a smaller group than expected gathered for the "Breathing with Nature", led by Alison Eve, of the Ancient Arden Forest Church. The ten who attended were grateful, too, that she altered the programme, which originally included rolling around in the grass. Instead, gentle chanting connected us with natural rhythms and with earlier Celtic expressions of faith.

A session of evening prayer, "Anything to Declare?", on the Mount, helped to round off the festival. The congregation was led in an "examen", or reflection, giving gratitude for gifts gained at the festival, and acknowledging gifts that had been offered by God but had not been taken up with joy. Under this heading, the gift of rain might have crossed more than one mind. 

Performing arts 

IN The Choices We Make: Stories from Syrian Refugees, four actors performed the heartbreaking, real-life stories of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. Their names and portraits were displayed along- side.

The actors brought their struggles to life (a flooded tent, vicious nightmares, a husband missing or dead), and shared their everyday life-or-death choices (food or medicine?) as the audience, some craning to watch from outside the tent, imagined themselves in their place. The script was skilful.

A brief Q&A at the end, MedAir staff working directly with Syrian refugees explained some of MedAir's work, but primarily this presentation was a catalyst for empathy and compassion.

In A Conversation With My Father, Hannah Nicklin describes her years as a campaigner. Her description of the verbal and physical brutality she experienced during protests was extremely disturbing. But it was even more unsettling to know that her father was a policeman, and had himself confronted rioting protesters.

Nicklin recreated a recorded interview with her father about his experience of policing a riot, meanwhile showing video images of herself in both peaceful and violent protests.

The piece was presented simply and theatrically, but interest flagged about 20 minutes before the end, and the repeated use of amplified shrieking was wearing.

The seven performers of Square Peg Circus, dressed as 18th-century sailors, performed spectacularly on a framework representing a galleon in Rime.

Rime had high wire, trapeze, and dance, which would have been astonishing in itself, but was even more breath-taking when accompanied by live sea shanties, and extracts from Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Its combination of athleticism with witty and touching moments was a huge hit with an all-age crowd. Highlights were a solo performed eight metres above ground, in which a gymnast twisted, floated, and drifted as if eight metres below water; and a beautiful lament sung by a performer crossing a tightrope.

The visual and performance artist Bobby Baker's short piece Ballistic Buns did exactly what it said on the tin. She introduced us to her grandparents: a man who had a breakdown after the First World War, as he realised what part his work in a munitions factory had played in the mass loss of life; and a woman who never let anyone see her eat, and yet would feed others aggressively, literally throwing buns at them: "Catch!"

Baker culminated by throwing buns to/at the audience before a backdrop film of bouncing bombs and Dambusters music, the juxtaposition of hilarity, nurture, and destruction powerfully summing up her family dynamics.

Baker's mission is to save humanity by using art to explore mental health, and find ways to resolve trauma and conflict before it spills down the generations. Find out more at www.dailylifeltd.co.uk. The Flanagan Collective tried valiantly to swell their pub-theatre-sized play Babylon into a festival venue. They told the story of how sweet and ordinary Henrietta Evans was randomly chosen as queen after the dissolution of the current monarchy.

Her reign began with popular acclaim, but politicians manipulated her, and, in the revolution that followed, even her lover abandoned her to join the rebellion.

The quartet competed unamplified. They battled, with virt- ually no light, against the rain, the music from other stages, and voices that progressively diminished to croaks. Wonderfully foot-stomping folk music gave a frustrating glimpse of what the show might have been. 


IN STAND-UP animation at the Playhouse, CBBC's Big Howard (and Little Howard) performed a family show, as well as a late-night show that was definitely not for the kids.

The evening event incorporated clever live comedy synchronised with computer animation. Two games of "Human Guess Who" proved a welcome warm-up for the crowd, and other highlights included a flamenco-guitar-playing crab, Lenny the differently visible duck, as well as an imaginary bear.

It was rounded off with some stand-up from an animated God sitting on a cloud wearing sandals, who described himself as 28 years old (in God years). He closed with a song of his somewhat quirky and diverse regrets: from asparagus wee to "making Darwin an intellectual".

Jo Enright brings a wonderful self-deprecation to her show. She was funny about how untrendy it is for her to be open about her faith, to the delight of the predominantly Christian audience, who were enjoying the rare pleasure of feeling unthreatened in a comedy show.

She managed to identify three atheists in the crowd, and told them the doors were barricaded and that she would be baptising them before the end of the evening.

Having assured the audience they were in safe hands, she then struck out confidently into the earthiest routine of this year's Greenbelt: half the audience snorted with laughter, the other half (the men) turned to their partners with perplexed faces, asking for an explanation.

One good thing about Monday's rain was that it moved Folk On out of the Big Top and into the bigger Glade main stage. The size of the crowd confirmed this comic turn as a star Greenbelt attraction.

From the first giggle ("Me, You, Us, Hooray") to the very last jig ("Hug It Out"), the band, who referred to themselves as "Mumford & Sons with a sense of humour", made everyone happy on a wet afternoon with superb musicianship, silly actions, and well-worn jokes.

Folk On classics were refreshed with unexpected conclusions and topical gags, including one on the bad things about Australia: "Rolf Harris - too early for that, do you think?" Gone were the nerves from previous main-stage performances, as they have graduated to become firm festival favourites. 


"THIS is the future," said the artist Phil Hopkins. "People don't feel bad about missing the show, because another one will be along in a minute." He was emerging from the festival's Garden Shed, having installed an exhibition of his work.

This would last two hours and then be replaced by another. It was a real shed, otherwise known as the Allotment Gallery, and hosted 13 artists over the course of the weekend. Right next to the main concourse, it attracted a packed-out audience all weekend - but, then again, viewing capacity was about five people at a time.

The visual-arts programme, lacking the secure bricks and mortar venues of previous years, was somewhat diminished in both size and space. But the team made up for this with the number of artists on site - at least 42 - and an imaginative response.

Lisa-Raine Hunt curated a well-documented exhibition of six of the 42, whose works were spread across the site under the title Travelling Light through the Wilderness.

Although the six artists visited the site in June to plan their works, they later had to relocate owing to problems with the Broughton horse chestnuts. It is a mark of their generosity that they responded to the travelling theme, and moved their work. Four of these artists also took part in an absorbing panel discussion on Saturday.

Two lively sessions of Pecha Kucha - a Japanese, visual version of the TED Talks - showcased the work of more from this bunch of artists, from Peter Majendie's Stations of the Cross in shipping containers, to Lorna Hamilton-Brown's fine-art knitting.

The Art School reported packed classes for seven sessions. "It's been good," its organiser, Ian Long said, "and we managed outdoor sculpture, Andy Goldsworthy-style, despite the rain." Watercolour was a bit more challenging.

The most striking art piece came from the Brooklyn-based artist Joel Bergner, who painted a massive, six-panel mural, and invited people to add to the boards their comments to the question: "How can we contribute to the healing of our natural environment?" All available spaces were filled.

Other installations, not part of the official visual-arts programme, popped up over the weekend, including holy::ground's install- Sation located at "A Tree". It could have been anywhere on the new leafy Greenbelt site, and that was the point.

It explored everyday sexism, and celebrated women who contest it. Ribbons fluttering from branch to ground represented ties that bind and bars that imprison women. On each was written a sad fact about gender inequality. The trunk was wrapped in God's different vision, rooting the installation in faith that promises equality for all.

From the surrounding branches flowed pictures and biographies of women striving towards equality, and visitors could add their own on CDs that sparkled and clattered in the changeable weather, attract- ing attention and drawing on- lookers.

Boughton House was not to be outdone, and contributed tours of its considerable art collection at a reduced charge for Greenbelters on Saturday and Monday mornings.

The remarkable thing about the house was that it was frozen in time for 150 years, from the late 18th century, when the Buccleuch dukes concentrated on their three other estates in Scotland, and closed up the house and its contents, until 1910.

The house's frozen-in-time moment was when the Tudor core of the house was transformed by a returning duke from Versailles, who added a Louis XIV-style wing, and prepared the house for a visit by William III.

Among the many paintings were a Murillo, an atypical El Greco, and a remarkable collection of Van Dyke portrait studies. Also on display were some exquisite items of furniture and Sèvres porcelain. 


GREENBELT's youth programme (or Youthbelt) was designed to offer 11- to 18-year-olds a selection of age-appropriate talks, discussions, crafts, workshops, and music.

Spread over two venues, Den and Hive, there was a full programme of events, led by a large team of friendly youth workers. The area was very popular with young people able to meet new friends and make themselves comfortable in a space exclusively for them.

The Hive's "Live and Loud" sessions were a daily event, and featured performances from the likes of Harry Baker, Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies, Hobbit, and Folk On. It was an opportunity for young people to see some of the festival's favourite acts on a more intimate stage, and without the massive queues of adults.

The XLP Art Showcase also came to Live and Loud to show off some of the young talent from the XLP projects in London. A small group of singer/songwriters and dancers impressed a large audience with their confident and professional performances.

Cake and Debate returned for Greenbelt 2014. This year the topics included adulthood, the LGBT debate, and scriptural reasoning about fashion and modesty.

The debate about whether turning 18 really transformed a child into an adult produced an enthusiastic and intelligent dis- cussion, and it was interesting to watch the LGBT session turn from a session of debate to one of more affirmation and agreement.

The thought-provoking debate about fashion and modesty was presented by a panel of three Muslims and three Jews, who explained their views and interpretations of a current issue. It provided a fascinating insight into the facts behind the stereotypes.

The Den held a seminar, Hear My Voice: Child Poverty, which was presented by young people and the Children's Society.

It promised to offer ideas for change, and personal accounts of the hidden costs of schooling. Despite some anecdotes and the occasional fact, however, the session was disorganised and too informal - a wasted opportunity to talk about an important topic.

The "Big Fat Gypsy Protest" explored and questioned the stereotypes of the gypsy and traveller community. Presented by a young Irish traveller, Helena Kiely, and the CEO of the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, the audience had an opportunity to find out about how the media misrepresent many young gypsy travellers.

Kiely spoke about some of her experiences of growing up as a traveller, which had been scary, prejudiced, and unfairly limiting. But it would have been interesting to hear her explore the reason for the stereotypes. It was a shame that very few of the young people asked any questions. 


ASIDE from various child-friendly performances at other venues, Greenbelt's main family venues were the Forge and the Make & Create tent.

Make & Create drew adults and children alike to engage in arts and crafts, including knitting, sewing, collage, weaving, and printing. There were taught sessions from imaginative, encouraging tutors such as Sew Far Sew Good and Ktisis, and drop-ins with instructions stuck up on the walls for making items such as sock puppets and periscopes, as well as "chat-and-create" sessions, with willing and inspiring volunt- eers.

Kicking off the Make & Create sessions in full upcycling fashion was John Mackay. In his willow-weaving session, a bamboo pyramid frame was quickly criss-crossed with willow wands and masking tape, covered in red netting, and gleefully adorned with recycled and salvaged factory fabrics. Hands at all heights could reach the frame to drape, weave, tie, and bind the structure.

Our three-year-old co-reviewer busied herself with some bright-pink felt scraps and offcuts from a tutu factory, pausing only to gasp: "I love this, it looks so lovely!" At the end, the teepee was put on legs, doubling the height in readiness for this fantastic all-age collaborative craftwork to grow bigger and more eye-catching throughout the weekend.

Mackay also spent the weekend helping all comers to make lanterns, travelling lights for the festival's closing torchlit procession. There were boats that could be made all weekend, too.

One family favourite at the main Glade stage included Fischy Music, who performed old favourites and taught everyone some songs - always with actions - from their new album. The audience was large and enthusiastic. All ages joined in the actions and danced with each other. They are Greenbelt regulars, and no wonder. It was wonderfully fun as usual.

The Big Top hosted a fab and frantic family ceilidh with Scottish ceilidh band Flaming Nora, while theatre duo Aoife Mannix and Janie Armour, of Half Moon Theatre, delighted people with their dynamic children's shows Misunderstood Monsters, One Way Ticket, and When Spring Comes.

In the lyrical show Misunderstood Monsters, Squeezy and St George were guides, complete with live accordion, poems about monsters, mime, and plenty of audience interaction.

Original poems in the voices of grizzly, made-up monsters - featuring a cameo from Little Miss Muffet's unwanted spider - helped make a charming lunchtime performance that kept the children entertained, and even included a few witty touches for the adults.

One Way Ticket, for children aged eight to 12, told the sad tale of the child migrants, an alarmingly large group of children in care who were taken to the Colonies (particularly Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe) after the Second World War, to provide "good white stock" for the fledgling communities.

The poetic show moved from being witty one moment to poignant and moving the next. The young audience was engrossed, and the Q&A session involved many of them.

Half Moon's third offering, When Spring Comes brought an environmental message aimed at three- to seven-year-olds. A solo dancer accompanied by a single musician playing clarinet, tenor and alto sax might not normally hold the attention of children for half an hour, but clever use of lighting, an animated projection, an engaging soundtrack and skilled dance moves kept everyone transfixed from start to finish.

Puppet State Theatre completely charmed an all-age audience with The Man Who Planted Trees. This uplifting puppet play described how one man, a shepherd in southern France, sowed acorns in their thousands, turning an arid landscape in to a lush and thriving area. It played with scale on an ingenious set, and it involved all the senses, as lavender and mint were wafted into the audience.

Children yelled their approval, but sentimentality was kept at bay: the puppet sheep went straight from cute to delicious. It is hard to imagine how a play with such a strong environmental message could be more sweetly entertaining.

"Family Twist", with Paul Cookson, gave the kids the chance to become the show themselves. Cookson warmed the audience, increased the temperature, and then managed the stage with great skill and fluidity (well, he has performed at every Greenbelt for the past 35 years).

Golden oldies became big laughs for the family audience: "Knock knock". "Who's there?" "Boo". "Boo who?". . . yes, we all know where this is going, but when a five-year-old tells it, and Cookson draws in the audience, the punch line: "Don't cry, it's only a joke," has everyone cheering far more enthusiastically than the joke might have deserved.

Not all the gags from the children were the obvious ones. Benjamin, aged seven, dressed in Spiderman wellies, said: "Why was the computer cold? Because it left its Windows open." Not bad at all that one!

Circus skills learned earlier in the day, singing and dancing were all performed to an audience who were ready to encourage everyone on stage. Next year the adults are invited, too.

The Lawn, as the name suggests, was a designated grassy space for family activities, offering more than enough space for even the most energetic children and adults to play, run and then play some more.

Activities there over the weekend included circus skills - learn to juggle, spin plates and do all those things that will come in handy one day at a party - silly sports and garden games, yoga in the morning, den-building, picnic time, archery, judo, big puzzles, Tai Chi, sweaty church, orienteering, cricket, benchball, netball, Pilates, and circuit training.

Those still standing could lie down and stargaze when the lights went out. 

Other highlights

BOUGHTON HOUSE is not Cheltenham Racecourse. This perceptive observation was made on occasions throughout the weekend, not least when people were looking for a phone signal, their car, or a bit of decent plumbing. But there were more positive comparisons, too, not least the beauty of the parkland setting.

On two occasions over the weekend, Bob Gilbert conducted a huge gaggle of 120 people for an hour-long tree ramble.

The line in the programme promised the tale of how conkers won the First World War. They were fermented to produce acetone, a key ingredient of cordite, vital for the war effort, in a technique devised by Chaim Weizmann.

Furthermore, when Lloyd George offered to honour Weizmann, he declined, asking only for backing for the campaign for a homeland for the Jews. Lloyd George introduced him to Balfour, and the rest is, well, the present. That was the conker story. Now, though, comes the canker story: almost all the horse chestnuts on the Boughton estate, weakened by the leaf-miner moth, have been fatally infected by canker. By next year's Greenbelt, they will all have been cut down.

Gilbert had happier tales about other species: why the lime tree, one of the least suited to street planting, was chosen for the task; why all the cedar trees in the UK date from after 1760; why the hawthorn could be left at your lover's window, but not taken indoors; why the poplar was the species of tree used by God to guide King David, and so on.

Bruce and Sara Stanley of Mid-Wales Forest Church led forage walks on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. These involved delicious delights from the plants growing around us which often go unnoticed, such as ketchup from Hawthorn, or young lime tree leaves as a salad.

The Stanleys told stories, besides identifying products from their own experience and experiments in the quest to shorten the food miles of their own diet: for example, substituting tea from plants such as silverweed or rose-bay willowherb for the camellia sinensis that is shipped hundreds of miles to make our usual brew.

The couple have launched their own tea company (Fine Pluck) but the focus was clearly education, encouraging others to explore God's creation around them for food and other uses - such as making cord from nettle stems.

Greenbelt's daily review of the press ("The Daily Mirror", chaired by a former Church Times news editor, Cole Moreton) was a packed event with plenty of opportunity to speak from the floor.

Diversity of political leaning was perhaps harder to come by. A request from the chair to hear from "anyone who actually reads the Daily Mail" was not fulfilled.

There was a interesting discussion about the dangers of Islamophobia and sexism, and two truly excellent songs from the musician Grace Petrie, including "I Do Not Have the Power to Cause a Flood", dedicated to Jeremy Clarkson.

Next year, it would be good to hear a bit more dissent from the Guardian line.

A wander down to the Kindred Café after hours revealed a rag-tag bunch of happy campers gathered around the glow of Greenbelt's very own campfire. It was sizeable and stewarded, and the events around it were completely spontaneous: songs, hymns, and games were led by whoever felt they had something up their sleeve - like an even more informal Beer and Hymns.

Sunday night's offerings included "Ging Gang Goolie", "Amazing Grace", and a Girl Guide-type song about eating (and excreting) a banana.

Marshmallows and skewers appeared from somewhere, songs bubbled up as melodies were recognised by the assembly, and fizzled out when no one could remember the words. People came and went, lingering a while to bathe in the light and warmth of the fire before bed.


Sarah Brush, John Cheek, Madeleine Davies, Malcolm Doney, Meryl Doney, Peter Graystone, Paul Handley, Trinity Handley, Simon Jones, Frances Novillo, Simon Nicholas, Matilda Reith, Hils Revill, Sally Rush, Helen Stedeford, Michael Truman, Helena Wright. 

Edited by Christine Miles. The Church Times is a Greenbelt partner.

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