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Easter joy comes early in Coldplay tribute

22 April 2022

Francis Martin samples an unusual Holy Week at the reCreate festival in Dorset

Francis Martin

Ultimate Coldplay play to a sold-out crowd in the festival marquee

Ultimate Coldplay play to a sold-out crowd in the festival marquee

SOMETHING strange was in the air in the village of Alderholt during Holy Week.

The greatest hits of Coldplay could be heard across the east-Dorset village on Friday night. Later, the streets were disturbed by the buzz of a two-stroke tuk-tuk engine. On Saturday morning, runners covered in multicoloured paint were seen on a lap of the village. And, in the early hours of Sunday morning, figures in full rabbit outfits were spotted going from house to house.

Easter BunnyThe Easter Bunny on the streets of Alderholt

What could they be doing? As the village awoke on Easter Day, the answer became clear, as dawn revealed a chocolate egg on every one of the thousand or so doorsteps.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing, though, was that none of the 3000 or so residents of Alderholt was particularly surprised. Before the pandemic, this was all part of a normal Holy Week. The parish church, St James’s, established the reCreate festival in 2012. Now it is back; and the climax of the festivities is the Easter-morning communion service in the festival marquee that stands in the village’s recreation ground.

The Vicar of St James’s, the Revd Simon Woodley, admits that, when he first arrived in the parish four years ago he “didn’t quite understand”.

“I thought: ‘We’ve got a band coming, we’ve got a comedian, but they’re nothing to do with Jesus or the church.’ . . .

“But now, seeing the connections people have, I can see that this is a chance for the community to come together, and for the church to be in the middle of that, enabling people.

“It makes sense, in all its weirdness,” he told me, and he had a point. I was interviewing Mr Woodley on Good Friday, just before he went up to the church for the 2 p.m. service, my voice recorder balanced on a four-foot-tall cardboard dinosaur that was being used as a postbox in the holiday club. I saw him again later selling hot-dogs during the gig. “If the priesthood doesn’t work out I can always fall back on this” he shouted to me over the music.

In previous years, the Good Friday evening slot at reCreate has hosted the British rapper Tinchy Stryder and S Club 3, a trio of the original members of the late-’90s pop phenomenon. This year it was Coldplay: not the real thing, but a professional tribute act. Almost 500 revellers of all ages packed into the marquee on the village sports ground, and the two bars inside the tent saw plenty of custom.

A post on the village Facebook page read: “Currently dancing to Coldplay in my back garden. Love this village. Thank you reCreate Festival for bringing us all together again.”

When I arrived in Alderholt on Friday morning the marquee had been pulsating with lyrics and music that couldn’t be mistaken for Coldplay: “God is bigger than a dinosaur, taller than a dinosaur, stronger than a dinosaur — Roar! Roar ROAR!” Around 100 children were singing along, at full volume, with the actions.

Francis MartinA cup of water is poured over a volunteer in the course of a “Messy Morning”

On the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings in Holy Week, reCreate hosted a holiday club, this year branded as “Messy Mornings” to create a link with the monthly Messy Church. The children who attend are involved in the Easter story through drama, song, games, and crafts. This year, the theme was dinosaurs, and Justin Tivey — a solicitor, and the festival’s treasurer — was playing the part of “The Prof”, a scientist who has brought dinosaurs back to life. How does this link into the Easter story? “I really don’t know, to be honest!” said Libby, aged eight.

Mr Tivey took a pragmatic view of the educational side of the workshops: “We’ve done well if we’ve made the Easter story part of their week if it wouldn’t have been otherwise.”

“We’ve never had the expectation that the festival would boost the congregation,” Mr Tivey told me, a view echoed by Mr Woodley: “We’re not on a recruitment drive; we’re making friends,” he said. “People will ask questions about us when they’re ready and when they’re interested.”

 

“JESUS CHRIST is risen today!”

“He is risen indeed, alleluia!” the congregation replied in full voice, then gasped as a confetti cannon exploded, and coloured paper rained down on the children in front of the stage. It set the tone for a rollicking Easter Day service that involved an on-stage game in which people were swaddled in loo-roll (to imitate the strips of linen in which the body of Jesus was wrapped), another rendition of the Dinosaur Song, and The Prof in full costume, helping to distribute communion.

Mike BottoA tuk-tuk taxi leaves the recreation ground

About 180 people were in the tent for this year’s Easter Day service, children making up about one third.

When the festival first started, some of the usual congregation objected to moving the main Easter service from the church to a marquee. Now that reCreate is established, however, the organisers say that some of those who were opposed are now among the most committed.

During the service, Tina and Martin were sitting outside the tent with their two dogs. They are not churchgoers, though Tina described herself as a Christian. This was their first time at reCreate, and they spoke enthusiastically about the way in which it brought the community together. After the service, there were a free barbecue and a football match in which all were invited to play. I spotted Martin being cajoled on to a team. On the Facebook page the next day, he wrote that he would be keen to volunteer in some capacity next year.

More than 100 volunteers were involved this year — stewarding, helping at the Messy Mornings, making cakes, working behind the bar, and so on. Not all of them are churchgoers, Mike Botto said: “I know that for sure, because there aren’t 100 people who attend our church.”

From “Messy Mornings” to the disco after the main act on Friday, Mr Botto is the festival’s de facto frontman. His day job is in IT sales, but his passions are AFC Bournemouth, where he is the stadium announcer, and the village of Alderholt.

Francis MartinLibby, aged eight, poses with the fruits of a craft activity

During a rare break from his duties as compère, Mr Botto reiterated what Mr Woodley told me: “The festival is rooted in the church, but is not mission in the old-fashioned way. . .

“It’s not a ‘Get ‘em in and convert them’ kind of scenario: it’s about building a community in which the church is present.”

At the end of the Saturday-night event, with the comedian Rachel Parris, I went along the queue for free tuk-tuk taxis. A few said that they were atheists, and one proclaimed herself a pagan, though she supports the church and had attended almost every event during the festival. Others said that they were Christians, but sheepishly admitted that they seldom attended church. 

However, none of those I spoke with could tell me anything about the elusive Easter bunnies who have been leaving an egg on every doorstep since 2015. Despite BBC’s Newsround and the Daily Mail reporting on the phenomenon, their identity remains a mystery.

Speaking on Monday, after the marquee had come down, Mr Botto estimated that 1000 different people, the vast majority of them from Alderholt, had attended at least one event at the festival this year. His idea of improving reCreate is to reach an ever greater number of the residents: “We put this on with, and for, the community.”

Before the service on Easter Day, I spoke to Pam, who has been a member of the congregation for about four years. She spoke of her first impressions of reCreate. “I was bowled over! It was fantastic — I couldn’t believe it. It really encapsulates the idea of a living church.”

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

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