AS I write, I’m days away from joining thousands of other Beyoncé fans on the London leg of her worldwide Renaissance tour. This will be my fourth time of seeing her live, but getting the tickets a few months ago was some feat. On one attempt, I was 170,000th in the queue. Another 300,000-plus people were behind me.
Beyoncé is an icon of our times. I’m a fully paid-up member of the Beyhive — not just because of her music, but because of the way in which she weaves elements of her faith, theology, and the sacred into her artistry.
Having dedicated a chapter to her album Lemonade in my book God is Not a White Man (Books, 11 June 2021), I was invited to comment on the release of her single “Church Girl” on the Radio 4 Sunday programme last year. Beyoncé draws people — especially millennial black women — towards exploring spirituality (and maybe even God), when so many of them have felt marginalised by Christian patriarchy.
I don’t believe that there is a divide between the sacred and the secular. So I am fascinated by innovative approaches to culture in church spaces, such as the Beyoncé Mass, candlelit Taylor Swift concerts in Southwark Cathedral, and drawing close to God during the now famous U2charist.
THE U2 frontman Bono once turned up undercover as a steward at Greenbelt — or so the legend goes. This August Bank Holiday marks the 50th Greenbelt Festival, and I cannot wait to be back in the field of dreams at Boughton House, Kettering.
Rumours are abounding about which special guests from Greenbelt’s history might make an appearance at this landmark celebration. As vice-chair, I’ve found it heart-warming to watch the team mark this year with a special ticketing system that enables those who can’t afford a full price ticket to pay less, while those who are able can pay more. There is something very New Testament about it.
It has also been an astonishing success — so much so that, when the ticketing system and the fact that many Greenbelters were paying more to help those who had less were discussed as part of a feature on festival pricing on Radio 4’s You and Yours, this counter-cultural model elicited a cry of “Well, that’s very generous of them!” from the presenter, Winifred Robinson.
THIS year, my husband and I will be at Greenbelt footloose and fancy-free, while our children are with granddad and grandma. The thought of a whole weekend listening to talks and dancing the nights away to the music of Laura Mvula or Balaklava Blues without having to worry about the noise waking up the baby makes me feel giddy with excitement.
I will have attended just over one fifth of Greenbelt’s 50 festivals, each time marking a different stage in my life, from my single days — sharing tents with friends, making my way round the on-site pub, the Jesus Arms — to the year we took my mother-in-law, just a few months before she died.
There was the time I waddled from venue to venue, chairing panels while heavily pregnant, before returning the following year with our ten-month-old. In 2022, we “glamped” with that baby — now five years old — and his little brother, who was just four months old at the time.
Like rites of passage, the rhythm of the August Bank Holiday marks the passing of time: the crossing of a line in the sand where the sacred-secular threshold feels porous — a glimpse of the now and the not yet.
This year, please God, let the sun shine.
THE familiar faces that you see as you make your way around the field at Boughton House is part of what makes Greenbelt so precious. Sometimes, they are people that you only bump into once a year as you dart, welly-clad, from one place to another.
I am starting to appreciate the comfort of the familiar faces near where I live: the people going about their daily lives who punctuate the school run. I am always glad to bump into Colin, an elderly gentleman, who stops and regales the children with tales of his latest adventures. (Readers of my last Diary (31 March) will understand why my eldest was particularly enraptured by Colin’s tale of rescuing an injured crow.) He seems to know everyone, often greeting them by name.
Besides stopping to talk to Colin, I might pause with a neighbour, say good morning to the street cleaner, and give a smile to the barista and a wave to the gym owner — though I admit that, sometimes, seeing the latter in the distance means that I might prematurely cross the street to avoid an awkward conversation about why I’ve been missing classes.
In the seeming chaos of my work and home life, I’ve realised, there is value in the humdrum rhythm of the familiar. There is comfort in community.
RECENTLY, there was standing room only in our church during a memorial service for someone who had not been part of our community for long. In a building packed with people mostly unfamiliar with church, it was a privilege for us to hold a space for them as they mourned.
For me, this is what the faith is about. It’s about community, solidarity in brokenness, and comfort in the darkness, marked by rhythms of the familiar, and yet wholly other.
Chine McDonald is a writer, broadcaster, and the director of Theos.