Category Archives: Greenbelt

Community sees People

The Guardian had this article on the changing nature of festivals and the way that the head of Live Nation John Probyn has said that the biggest challenge to the industry is that festival goers are becoming too fussy.

I read the article with interest, particularly the part where he talks of it being a good thing festivals getting bigger and control more centralised because it allows the costs including the artists fees to be lowered. He is talking of a particular type of festival and punter. The events he is talking about are the huge big name ones.

However, as David Binder reminds us in this recent TED talk about the changing nature of festivals it is just one model. There is a diversity within the festival market and different festivals attract different people for different reasons. Within his talk Binder describes, primarily, the type of festival which Milton Keynes had over the summer with its Summer of Culture and theInternational Festival which took place within it and which is coming back in 2014 with a large scale dance performance being planned by the new artist in residence Rosemary Lee according to the website. I reflected on the role that artists themselves had in this model, (MKIF for example has heavy involvement from The Stables ).

Then there are the embedded independent festivals like Greenbelt which have a niche market and a loyal following. The way in which most people just got on with the mud was indicative of the way in which this type of festival goer differs from the punter at the big event. There is a sense of community which exists amongst many who attend these festivals which, whilst there at some of the bigger more commercial events, is lost amongst most. I can’t imagine V asking for festival goers to contribute to this type of crowd sourced documentary project for their 40th birthday.

There has to be an acknowledgement that over recent years the festival market has become over saturated and this has put pressure upon many festivals and events of all kinds. However, there has also been as Binder indicates a shift and organic growth of community art which has taken place at the same time. This ties in with the point which one of the contributors at ADVENTurous, (which Jonny Baker has some brilliant photos of within a slide show which can be accessed via his blog), made. That is there is a link being made between the local or hyper local and the global. (See this post for more my take on that event).

It has always been there but in recent times it has emerged more obviously again, almost like a phoenix from the ashes. In part it appears to be a response to the recession and the economic situation people now find themselves in, in part it is because we have the tools of social media and the digital age and in part it is because of something which has been happening on the ground amongst artists and others.

Roger Kitchen gave a talk at a TEDx Milton Keynes event in September where he described the community he lived in. Within it he explained that Wolverton has a strong sense of community and it is a creative place which as old institutions and customs have died has put new events in place. It has benefited from grassroots involvement, including from artists who have often chosen to live in the area simply because of its affordability. There is that hyper local element of community engagement happening.

Reading the initial Guardian article I referred to I was struck by the way that the Live Nation guy just saw artists as another commodity to be obtained as cheaply as possible just like beer. The economic models he is using are those which refer to ‘labour’ rather than people and whose main purpose is to allow the entrepreneurs and owners to make as much profit as possible. In that scenario where art and artists are seen as little more than another supply and demand model variable the consumer will become more picky.

However, using other models where artists are valued as people with skills and something exciting to bring then something truly exciting can happen. Communities can be rebuilt and change can occur.

Within his talk Roger Kitchen What Makes A Community? made reference to the MK Christian Foundation and their social enterprises. This is one example of where the Christian community is working with the wider community and working on qualitative rather than quantitative growth.

The work En Gedi is doing with ADVENTurous, which is described by Gavin Mart 10 mins into this Fresh Expressions clip from the conference the other week, is another example of qualitative rather than quantitative engagement and of how secular artists are working with the those from faith communities. One interesting thing is the way that Mart (and others at the Following the Missionary Spirit conference) talked of permission giving taking place, whilst those doing stuff on the ground at ADVENTurous were making the point what is happening with alot of the new festivals and artistic NVDA projects is people are learning to just do it without seeking permission.

In looking at the arts world and thinking about these things, reflecting in part on my thesis conclusions, I see that what is happening in the festival culture is also happening within Christian culture.

The large churches focused on quantitative growth using market based strategies are still there. They are facing challenges specific to their context, including I would argue from some of the anecdotal evidence you find around the web, a greater pickiness amongst  those worshippers who attend them. If these consumers aren’t happy in one church they are quite happy to travel to another which meets their requirements.

However, at the same time there are several other things happening and a variety of models emerging. There are established churches and congregations changing the way they do things, taking a more relationally based approach which seeks qualitative as much as quantitative growth. These are the churches who are getting out into their local communities again and often coming together as the driving forces behind social enterprise movements. Food banks, (despite their problem of being organisations which meet need rather than challenging the causes of need), are another part of this whole move which is taking place..

Then there are the small micro-groups and communities who are coming together. The people who Studebaker and Lee, in their paper on Emerging Churches in Post Christian Canada describe as the pilgrims.

Different models are emerging in different contexts in both the arts/festival world and the Christian world, and surprise surprise – as they both inhabit the same physical world – crossovers are occurring as communities are being (re)formed.

That’s my take I’d welcome your thoughts and comments.

Clarification re. Greenbelt post

It appears I have been playing with the big boys recently, so to speak. Kester Brewin responded to my thing on Greenbelt and TAZ with this post.

Apparently in my post he reckons I was suggesting that sponsors may exert influence overtly on the talks team, this is not the case. Reply posted in his comments posted on here for clarification.

“Thanks for the engagement with my post. I am quite aware, through my own involvement with the teams, that sponsors don’t influence the contect directly. However, my point was that for the festival to exist it needs sponsors. If all the sponsors were to decide they didn’t like the direction was going in, (which is unlikely but theoretically possible), that could influence the content. Additionally like Simon says parts of the content are influenced by the sponsors. This is particularly the case beyond the main talks. CMS had some great stuff on in their tent which reflected the CMS ethos of engaging in mission in the contemporary environment. The Outerspace talks are seperate to the main talks programme, and Outerspace aren’t a sponsor, (but their talks reflect their place as part of the festival).
If there is a TAZ space in GB I would say it is sometimes the campsite where “happenings” seem to occur and then disipate.
One area I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on is the impact of TAZ spaces on people afterwards who temporarily find freedom but then find it difficult going back to the “everyday” experience of church.”

I am being very careful here. I know from previous experience what can happen if your blog post gets taken as criticism by someone involved with GB……….you find yourself challenged, involved and working on one of the festival sub-groups (or maybe that’s just me).

TAZ + The Other (Pt 1)

The other day I blogged about, Other, the new book from Kester Brewin and the debate about TAZ which is brewing up from it. Today I start the first of a few thoughts I have coming out of it and in relation to the way Brewin talks about it in the book. I want to start by looking at the way Brewin uses it in relation to Greenbelt.

In the book Brewin equates Greenbelt with the canivalesque atmosphere that TAZ creates, and to some extent with the subversive element. In doing this he recognises the roots of TAZ within the anarchist movement and then seeks to remove these to reincorporate this theory within the church, particularly emerging church movement.

On one level I agree with Brewin that Greenbelt does contain elements common to TAZ and there is some room for the application of TAZ which may or maynot be utopian and naieve, (as Jonny Baker has argued in his review/ critique of the book). These are the very elements that I have in the past argued may well make Greenbelt a place of something akin to pilgrimage, but not pilgrimage. (See my post here on the nature of pilgrimage and here on how I think it relates to Greenbelt). I think this conclusion is the one I reach in relation to Greenbelt and TAZ for similar and overlapping reasons.

TAZ is related to resistance and a desire to see something more positive replace the existing. The temporary act is supposed to give a glimpse into the future and give space the planting of seeds to be realised in some more concrete way.

If we look at the key elements of the typology of pilgrimage we get from was Turner, V & Turner, E, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, (1978), Basil Blackwell, Oxford we can see an ideal type with the following being central:

1. Pilgrimage is not a static activity, rather the nature of the pilgrimage centre and the pilgrimage itself develops through time and is shaped by and indeed helps shape social and political history. Modern pilgrimage is seen in some ways as a reaction against the dominant secular ideas of the time. Within this pilgrimage is often seen as marginal and so can be endorsed or suppressed according to the time.

2. Within liminal pilgrimage there has to be an aspect of potentiality for change within the individual through undertaking the act of pilgrimage.

3. Pilgrimage is associated with miracle and revival of faith

4. Communitas, particularly focused around ritual is a key feature of pilgrimage.

5. Pilgrimage and the centres of pilgrimage are subject to a complex range of regulation (formal and informal) which develop as the pilgrimage becomes more established.

6. Whilst there are clear differences there are also clear links between pilgrimage and tourism, particularly as religion has become more individualised. Pilgrimage has a leisure element to it.

TAZ is also a non-static activity. Every action will differ and change over time, in part because of the changing tactics of the authorities trying to contain such actions.

TAZ involves liminality, that is every TAZ action is providing a potential for change to occur.

TAZ involves communitas. (Note for those wondering what communitas is – Turner, V & Turner E, (1978), pp250 – 251 define this concept of communitas and explain that it is, “spontaneous, immediate, concrete, not abstract”, “undifferentiated, egalitarian, direct, nonrational” and “strains toward universalism and openness, it is a spring of pure possibility.”)

Whilst seeking to be non-regulated TAZ actions, as with all anarchist actions, are actually quite highly regulated. There is much more informal regulation than formal, but hierarchies do exist and actions are taken on the understanding that they have specific purposes and will take certain forms.

TAZ through it’s caniveralesque type features can be seen to have a tourist type element to it. Through their very nature then both TAZ events and pilgrimages have to be both communal and individualistic. Greenbelt through it’s nature has these key elements, as do many of our festivals and conferences, (both secular and religious). In Other Brewin does not make this connection, which I feel is unfortunate because in failing to recognise the way that the same thing operates in many other settings beyond Greenbelt he seeks to give GB more unique significance than it infact has, if one looks at Glastonbury for example and the faith aspects that have and still to some extent occur there, particularly in the greenfields.

What is important with both pilgrimage and TAZ events is not what happens at the event itself but what the event then gives birth to, in both individual and community. The liminal element in conjunction with communitas is why both pilgrimage and TAZ are valid and important and are both reflected in Greenbelt. This I think Brewin picks up on.

What worries me though, and what I think Baker is picking up on his critique is how these can give unrealistic expectations and ultimately cause damage when dreams are left unrealised. I am increasingly aware alot of people who see another “world”/  “church” is possible at Greenbelt but then return home and find themselves further alienated because the “world” / “church” they are part of and have often been struggling with anyway further fails to understand them, or marginalises them because of their alternative ideas/ dreams. The potentiality of TAZ events can only be realised if the political/ community groups are in place to help them work in a range of ways, on individual and community levels, to achieve their dreams. Similarly the potentiality of Greenbelt can only be realised if people have communities to go back to help them build upon the specific actions of those few days.

TAZ events are subversive in nature seeking to create resistance. One of the key TAZ type happenings have been Guerilla Gardening events which have been linked to land reform and land use. What these events seek to do is to change space to provoke change. This is what Greenbelt does. However, TAZ events always have the potentiality for conflict to occur and for the crushing of dreams by force by those who oppose the reappropriation of land on either a permanent or temporary basis. One aspect of anarchist TAZ type things then is ensuring people are prepared for if those institutional forces seeking to oppose them turn up sooner than expected or seek to challenge individuals who have been involved. Those acting as co-ordinators will ensure that appropriate legal help and so forth are available and individuals are able to network with others they come into contact with. This preparation for the negative is not something Brewin has addressed in Other, and I would argue that Greenbelt has only slowly come to recognise (mainly through the sterling work of Jenny MacIntosh and the Spirited Exchanges team).

Another issue Brewin does not address is that Greenbelt is institutional and has always been so, because of its funding. Northup (2003) explains the original funding for Greenbelt came through the Deo Gloria Trust , which remained the sole sponsor for the first 10 years of the festivals life. As the festival developed the sources of funding changed and sponsorship started coming from other groups such as Christian Aid and through additional support from festival goers themselves through the Greenbelt Angels scheme. Recently Greenbelt has been sponsored by a range of groups including: Traidcraft , CMS , YMCA ,ICC ,  Ecclesiastical Insurance, Department for Development and Aid and most recently the Methodist Church. The funding for such projects means that Greenbelt is not/ cannot be a space for resistance in the way that TAZ’s are. The funding mechansims involved mean that Greenbelt is different on a structural level to TAZ spaces. There are much stronger and more obvious power relations involved and at play. Ultimately Greenbelt is working within the confines of what the institution will allow. I think the fact it is the Methodist Church which has become arecent major sponsor is significant. The Methodist Church through various conference resolutions includes within its policies affirming and supporting members of the LGBT community. Therefore, the debates around the alleged  “gayification” of GB are not problematic for this sponsor in the way they could have been for other potential sponsors. If no LGBT friendly sponsor could have been found I doubt that the festival would be taking the approach it has been to the issue. I don’t doubt many of those involved want to be radical, alternative or inclusive but the financial realities of the situation and dependance upon “the insitution” for financial and organisational support be that explicit or implicit do impact on the programming and availability of speakers and other resources for the festival. TAZ events through their nature are freed from these concerns and are indeed seeking to challenge these ways of being. Only if GB were a free festival, working outside the confines of the 1995 Criminal Justice Act would it truly be able to take on the ethos of TAZ.

TAZ and Other Cartoons

Sometime last year we  got, momentarily, into the “Pirate Debate”. The words flowing back and forth across cyberspace eminated from a Greenbelt session and subsequent set of posts from Kester Brewin. Well now it’s contextualised into his latest book “Other: Loving Self, God and Neighbour in a World of Fractures.

I picked the book up at Buckfast Abbey’s bookshop last weekend and started getting over excited as I flicked through. This was a theologian engaging with TAZ theory. Now before I go any further it appears events in the blogesphere have over taken me and Jonny B and Kester have been debating this stuff. For reasons which will become clear later in this post I am going to enter that debate but not until next week.

On one hand the book over all is a bit of a let down. Parts one and two read way too much like either a undergrad lit review or a Guardianista justifying themselves through what they’d read elsewhere. However, part three onwards got far more engaging. Mind you TAZ theory is like that, you either get excited by it or think it’s pretentious bollocks. Me I remember exactly where I was when I first came across it. It was Spring 2000 and I was sitting in some comfy chairs in a classroom in Barking, coming towards the end of my course in Political Activism and Social Movements, when we got the handout. Anyway cutting the reminicing and getting back to Brewin, in the book he was relating this every so often to Greenbelt and so bringing GB together with TAZ I was hooked on the second half of the book.

Right I will basically explain TAZ theory here. It is the idea that spaces can temporarily be taken over and changed as acts of resistance. Think Guerilla Gardening or Reclaim the Streets as examples. Well in this book Brewin seeks to argue that it might be a useful concept to engage in when we are looking at church and/ or worship. Me I think he’s sort of right and sort of wrong. As I indicated for anybody who is interested in this I will be doing a sensible critique of Brewin’s conclusions on this next week, possibly over a couple of posts because I think it is too complex to do justice to in this post.

If you think you’re interested in what Brewin is saying and want some complementary secular easy read books to help you develop your own thinking on this type of area further I would recommend the following. They go beyond TAZ but all fit into the whole DIY culture, social movement theory bracket.

DIY: the rise of lo-fi culture by Amy Spencer 

The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age by Pekka Himanen

The Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason

Practically anything by George McKay, but particularly DIY Culture: party and protest in nineties Britain

Changing for Good, For One Day Only

Yesterday I was Changing for Good, but for one day only. No, it doesn’t sound any better the other way round. In English this meant I spent a wonderful day being semi-enthused and semi-offended by Steve Chalke, thoroughly motivated by Paul Blakey, really inspired by Jane Cook and refreshingly entertained by Applecart .

I will start with “the star”. Now to put this in context I have to explain I was a child of the mid-late 80’s Baptist church youth group. Therefore as a teenager I was subjected to video upon video of Chalke and occassionally him talking in person, (he was the preferred eye candy of youth leaders of the time). The only noteable talk of all this I remember was him getting a hall full of impressional kids to stand up if they would promise once they grew up and got good jobs rather than buying a Merc they would get a little car and spend the difference on funding a Christian worker for a year, I stood and meant it….just never had the money. The other thing I will remember, and more fondly, is that he was the inspiration for Christmas Cracker. This was a series of charity restraunts we did over a couple of years, most noteably in a shop which was closing down, and a series of community radio events at Christmas for a couple of years. (The relevance of this will be come apparent in a moment). As the years went on I remember seeing Chalke at Spring Harvest over the years and being midly pleased about his focus on social justice.

Yesterday he was giving a good message, and interestingly talked about how 5 years ago he opened up a community radio station in his church over August and this led to a reduction in crime. He happened to mention it to Gordon Brown and before you knew it it was a recognised crime reduction initiative and Chalke was on his way to becoming something to do with the UN. There was no mention of the fact he had been encouraging the use of community radio licences all those years before, he wanted it to start 5 years ago in yesterdays talk. But then, that’s Steve Chalke. He is a social entreperneur who has facilitated a heck of good work, and become part of the New Labour machine, (one gets the feeling from some of the comments yesterday about being on the phone to central government every day he is now part of the ConDem nation machine)….anyway, one can only be so cynical about somebody who has had the guts to face up to much of the evangelical establishment on various issues over the years and ensure that the “British Tradition” of mixing evangelicalism with social justice has been sustained.

Yesterday he said one thing to make me really angry though. He said that we have the wrong picture of God and the kingdom we are working towards is more of an occupation, like the Israeli occupation. There was no acknowledgement that such occupations might be wrong, rather he said the church should be taking that approach. This pisses me off because it is exactly that sort of approach which led to the attrocities committed by missionaries in partnership with the British government in the nineteenth century. More recently if any Palastinian had been in that room, (and whilst I don’t think they were it wouldn’t have been beyond the realms of possibility in Durham), it would have been even more offensive to them. Occupation is wrong. God does not want occupation, he wants positive active choice making based upon transformative love not violence.

Paul Blakey turned up with another Halifax Street Angel and a bloke from Hull Street Angels. Peter, who leads StreetLights up here, with his wife, also spoke. Now, ok I was going to be biased in this sort of session. I volunteer for StreetLights and am fully convinced of the benefit of these initiatives. However, what struck me was how Paul Blakey in particular was just an ordinary bloke. There was no trendy hair cut, he didn’t look like a Mac user, and he was up there talking about how they just got on with it up there. There is no doubt that Paul is an amazing bloke, looking at what he had achieved, but he is not full of himself, he just seemed like a nice ordinary bloke with no pretentions what so ever – so different from Steve Chalke. I loved this session which got real people talking about real issues in real communities.

In the afternoon I went to a seminar by Jane Cook, (one of the former WSC students), on spirituality and outdoor persuits. This session was chilled, laid back and inspiring. Jane again was talking to ordinary people about what they could do with people from their churches and communities. She went through a whole host of ideas and did some theological reflection on them. It was great and I really enjoyed her session. Again it was rooted in the real world and what was achieveable anywhere.

Finally I saw Applecart, who somehow hadn’t gotten on my radar at Greenbelt last year. Applecart were one of the most refreshing things I have seen in years. Basically they do theatre with a Christian theme in the real world. This means that it is the sort of thing you can take your granny to and she will love whilst you will be blushing, thinking what will she make of the language…which, yes, did include the F word. The best bit of what they were doing last night was inspired by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Two blokes in flat caps in  a pub discussing Jesus telling the religious bloke to  be born again and what this meant. I won’t go into detail for those who might see it at Greenbelt this year, where they are performing four different shows. Sufficient to say the bits about it being horrible to think about having to go through your mums chuff and rupturing her were hilarious. The thing about Applecart is they are explicitly performing normally for non-Christians and have a booking criteria which means they deal with real comedy in the real world rather than sanitised stuff in church buildings which might even make Disney look risky.

All in all a good day, but one which further emphasised to me that whilst Christian social entreprenurs and Mac users might have a place it’s ordinary people in the real world that I prefer to listen to. If you are still here I  leave you with a You Tube clip of Applecart doing an interview at Greenbelt.


Nice little offer for the weekend

Ok, I know I keep banging on about Solas and people are probably getting bored of it…..but they have a nice little deal on this weekend, buy one get one free on adult tickets. Now that means dear concession you can split the cost between two of you and pay £40 each rather than the £60 each if you are students, etc or if you are adults you can make a real tidy saving. Think of it this way, when your friends of family are boring you with the highlights of Glasto you can tell them about this quaint little Scottish festival you were at that weekend, so much more exclusive 😉 Equally a good way to escape the footie if you’re not that way inclined.

Oh and if anybody is thinking of buying a Mac find a student and get a discount and an i-pod for one of you into the bargain, with this tidy little offer. (Seriously I could do with the i-pod if anybody wants to use my studnet status on this one).

Restrictions and Realities

Yesterday I got the news that they are pulling the plug on Changing for Good, (a conference I’ve raved about on here previously and for which the material was still up on this website), and are planning on replacing it with a one day conference, at St. Johns College. The one day event is billed as follows:

As an alternative this year, we are offering a ‘One Day Only’ event on Tuesday 13 July with Steve Chalke and Applecart (the dynamic drama company).  The event will take place at St John’s College and will be accessible for morning, afternoon or evening or all day. The day will include session led by Steve Chalke, and a rich variety of workshops and seminars, Bible study led by Dr Richard Briggs and an exciting drama event called Transforming Parables. The price will be £25 for the whole day or £10 for attendance any of the three sessions.”

It appears the only reason that they had to pull the plug on the original conference was that they faced making too much of a loss, (way above the subsidy they had). The prices that they had to be charging to cover costs, (in part because of the way the conference centre had had to change it’s way of doing things to cover costs…), were just too much for alot of people to pay. I know that they were trying to keep the price as low as they realistically could, but it was still out of alot of people’s price ranges. The one day conference, which is in the college they operate out of is a real bargain and I would really encourage people to get to this is they can. I haven’t heard Dr. Briggs, but TOH has and assures me he’s excellent and I know Applecart are also supposed to be good and lets face it Steve Chalke is a bit of a legend in his own way, (or he is if you happened to be growing up in the evo sub-culture in the mid-late 80’s when you couldn’t escape the guy).

Anyway there are a couple of issues this raises for me:

Who are the target audience for these types of events? On one hand they are the “professionals” – lay and ordained-  who want to enhance their ministries and get some inspiration. However, particularly for the evening events the aim I guess is to get more local people involved and inspired.

A big problem I think is many of us have turned into “religious tourists”, you know the sort who would prefer a few days getting some solid teaching and inspiration to a week on the Costa Del Sol. Or those who would choose to go for a few days to this type of thing, in addition to a couple of week on the Costa Del Soul. Thing is with this type of event it is essentially an academic event offering CPD type stuff, but trying to bill itself, as a summer school, as something with a wider appeal.

The pressure on many of these types of conferences is these days you can get the teaching and get the few days away together, at a much cheaper price and you can take the kids with you. This is what is putting pressure on the good old fashioned style conference centres. We have gotten to a stage where “the summer school” has been replaced by “the conference” or “the holiday”. Lets face it if you really wanted to see the likes of Steve Chalke and have a good praise up in the evenings, with the chance to see the odd theatre company production you’d have probably spent part of Easter period at Spring Harvest.  Similarly if you wanted the mix of intellectual theologian, theatre and seeing how the arts can impact faith you’d probably go to Greenbelt. Additionally, the sheer range of these types of things on offer now means you can pretty much choose what meets your budget. (I confess it, I go to Greenbelt because it’s cheap if you camp….aswell as the fact I absolutely love it).

However, I want to suggest that in this move to becoming “religious tourists”, which in itself is no bad thing (I raise my hand as somebody who comes into that category….Greenbelt is my main summer holiday) has left a gaping big hole because summer schools like this do provide something that other things struggle to.

Firstly, the level of discussion and teaching. If you are at a summer school, whilst the language will seek to be as inclusive as possible, there is an expectation that it will be academic. This means that sessions can often  go into a bit more depth than the average event is able to.

Secondly, these events are more intimate and allow for a building up of relationships and networking over the week in a way that larger gatherings can’t. There is more chance for people to sit in the bar throwing around ideas, some of which may spark something concrete.

Thirdly, they provide opportunities for local people to get fed in a way they otherwise wouldn’t. More smaller gatherings, like this, with evenings open to the locals means more locations. It means those who might have caring responsibilities, work commitments or so forth who can only get to the odd thing have the opportunity of accessing what those of us who are able travel do.

Finally, following on from the last point, these types of things can stimulate the growth of local churches. If a large number of people of church can get to the evening events then a spark might catch hold and God might do something through it.

Anyway all that is, I think, a long way of saying I think that it is a real pity that this summer school isn’t happening, but I think the one day event looks cool. If you do want to get some good teaching and inspiration this summer aswell as the chance to access some excellent theatre and arts type stuff, besides Greenbelt, you could try The Solas Festival (in Scotland),  Detling Summer Celebration or Leading Edge.

Breaking out of the Bubble

This year at Greenbelt there were a few things that happened which made me smile about how much I have moved on from the evangelical bubble and also about how some of that still comes into my mind as “natural thinking”.

One of the things that had me thinking about this the subject of mission. The situation was I had just finished my stint on the OuterSpace stall and went wandering to find the relatives who were exploring the resources centre whilst they waited for me. They were at a stall where one of them, an agnostic, was finding out about mission opportunities. Being me I engaged confused mouth before brain and blurted out, “but don’t you have to be a Christian to go on mission?”. Both relative and stall holder decided to answer the question. Relative said that as long as agencies weren’t trying to sell God and were going out to do some good then they were interested in what they were doing. The bloke from the “missionary organisation” explained how whilst they are a faith based organisation they are happy to have involvement from non-believers and those of other faiths. Made me realise that these days in many ways mission, particularly short term mission, means something v. different to what I would automatically think. My evo influenced mind still sees it in many senses through the mid 20th century paradigm which is only….if we’re honest….a few steps away from the colonial model of the 19th century. In reality we now live in a secular world where missionary orgs are essentially just another set of NGO’s, but with an explanation for why they are engaging in this work.

The second thing which got me reflecting on the bubble and how far I had or hadn’t come from the evo bubble was thinking about my experiences of worship at GB this year. I actually ended up in a wider range of worship situations than usual, and several of them had a clear mainstream Anglican litergical influence. This year this didn’t seem like some exotic excursion rather it was like, ok this is what these guys are doing that’s cool. There wasn’t the same sense of relief and yet fear of “soundness” I had had in past years when going to stuff that was “different”. This year I was able to relate it to my ordinary experiences of worship much more and so appreciate it more for what it was. Admittedly the Ikon stuff did challenge because of the way they very quietly punched you in the face with some stuff about what faith does and should mean. The rest of the time I was pretty much just worshipping.

The third thing that struck me was about how those outside church experience us and what we have to offer. I admit I, in a tongue in cheek way, figured that taking my ickle bro to GB might help “convert him”. Um, I was the one who the joke ended up being on. I saw whilst I see GB as another way to encounter Christianity it is much more than that. What impressed my bro was the way that GB was based around anarchism and was engaging loads of people under the age of 50 in activism. Now, I’m not sure about the level of anarchism he could apparently see, but I am aware of the activist element. As someone who sees that type of social justice emphasis as “normal” I didn’t realise the appeal it has to others. He didn’t engage in the way I would have “hoped” as an ickle evo, but he did experience and appreciate a range of things that GB had to offer. He understood the meaning of Tomlinson’s church without boundaries in a way I couldn’t.

The final thing that got me was the way that GB was rationally talking about issues of sexuality in a way which has gotten past alot of the nonsense. Yes there had been a ridiculous amount of nonsense about Gene Robinson coming to the festival, and apparently division about it, according to Christian Today, (although as Richard Hall says this article is slightly questionable if you were there). They have moved on from going on about the rights and wrongs in many ways and into looking at the practical implications of engaging with spirituality in a faithful way whatever your sexuality. That is not to say they don’t recognise the realities of life today for some gay Christians, rather it is to say that they are reflecting the situation that for many of us in our churches it is kind of a non-issue much of the time, in terms of it is not our sexual orientation that is the issue but rather how we all approach relationships and live our lives generally which matters whatever our orientation. This is a subtle change which I became aware of over the weekend as I thought about it. One of the things that reflected this was the OuterSpace programme this year. Rather than just focusing on the politics they were looking at the practicalities of life for LGBT people. They had Jeff Heskins talking about the practical issues involved in civil partnership blessings and in trying to keep integrity if you happened to be LGBT and going through the discernment process, (mainly related to the CofE). Whilst it is interesting that The Changing Attitude Blog uses the language of politics and rights in relation to these sessions what I liked in the OuterSpace session I attended was the way the discussion was about the practicalities rather than the shouting. Similarly their Sunday night worship session was focused on honestly and simply bringing our lives as Christians, (some of whom happen to be LGBT), to God in worship rather than being an attempt to do inclusive worship. Can’t quite explain but I really witnessed a subtle but encouraging change this year. Also for reasons I’m not going into I realised that, at GB and in many other places, your sexuality makes absolutely no difference to anything…the world has moved on and so, I think, has more of the church than we might realise if we only believe the media headlines.

Finally, on the sexuality thing, what I liked about Gene Robinsons session was the way he didn’t seek to points score, rather he sought to point to people back to God and to love for the bible. Also totally unrelated he was v. lovely when faced with a bunch of slightly mad Durham (& ex Durham) students and a camera at his book signing.

Think that in another post The Changing Attitude Blog summed it up totally in their post “On Being Unremarkable“. Personally I am discovering that in the evo bubble people would like us to think there is something different or remarkable about being x, y or z….in reality all of it is far more unremarkable and simply ordinary than we would like to admit. We often talk about wanting to find God in the ordinary, well perhaps the secret is first for us to appreciate what the ordinary is.

Greenbelt – Caught in the Storm

It appears that Greenbelt and CMS are the latest organisations to be caught up in the storm which is engulfing the Anglican church at the moment. This article in Ekklesia alerted me to the way that CMS are the latest organisation to be caught in the current Anglican storm which appears to have blown the fence away.

The blog post on the Anglican Mainstream site which caused all this to blow up was “Greenbelt, “Gay evangelicalism” and CMS: Summer 2009″ by L S Nolland. Besides outlining the different ways in which Greenbelt has become a queer friendly Christian festival and highlighting those on the speaking line up this year it regards as heretics it specifically questions CMS’s involvement in the festival. CMS in turn have replied with this statement which outlines their position as an evangelical organisation which is are “associates” of the event and therefore not involved in planning decisions, beyond their own venue in the marketplace.

Whilst not wishing to get embroiled in the politics within a denomination of which I am not a part as this ickle part of the debate relates to a festival close to my heart I am going to give my own opinion on this one.

The Anglican Mainstream writer appears to have two issues regarding Greenbelt, (i) CMS involvement and (ii) the fact that the Greenbelt programme is not balanced out by speakers from the ex/post gay movement.

With regards to CMS involvement, they are one of several explicitly evangelical organisations who seek to engage with people at Greenbelt, within the marketplace. A large part of what CMS has done over recent years has been, particularly through the emerging church stuff it has been involved in, is to help keep connection with and give a positive picture of established Christianity to church leavers aswell as seekers. Due to it’s focus on being an arts festival, rather than a “Christian conference” type thing, it becomes a space for many people who feel alienated by established church and the politics within them. It has also been a place where Christians who might have been cynical about the word “mission” have been encouraged to think again about mission in the contemporary society and how to engage in it with sensitivity and authenticity.

In terms of the 2nd point made by the AM writer I want to share my own opinion on this, not just as a regular Greenbelter but as a queer Christian who is not Anglican but does care about the whole church.

Over the years Greenbelt has been somewhere where LGBT Christians have been welcome in someway. It has also been somewhere where their views have been challenged. In the past there have been events where debate of the type described has occurred, I remember Elaine Storkey defending the traditional biblical position and promoting the True Freedom Trust at one point. Over recent years the LGBT presence at Greenbelt has changed. Rather than just being a fringe meeting of Safety Net in a back room, if you could find it, there have been more openly LGBT speakers and performers and their straight friends on the main programme. In recent years significant contributors have included James Alison and Peterson Toscano. The fringe type meetings still occur, now hosted by Outer Space , operating as a place for LGBT Christians and others to network. This does not mean that Greenbelt has become a pink festival or has begun to consciously descriminate against those who hold alternative views but it does mean that Greenbelt has become a clearly safe space for LGBT and most importantly questioning Christians. It has become a space where the carefully rehersed arguments given by both sides have been swapped for people sitting down sharing stories and worship. It is a place where articulate speakers have been able to express to those who may be unsure of what to think what the position of ordinary LGBT Christians is.

In my own experience Greenbelt is where my own coming out journey really started. In the days when I was trying to work out about how to handle my sexuality, and had questions I wanted to ask about how it related to my faith going to Greenbelt and slipping off to Safetynet was my first step forward. I will never forget slipping in and thankfully seeing one face I knew via mutual friends and then sharing communion with people like me….people who were wrestling with what it meant to be gay and a follower of Jesus. It was the first time I think that I realised I might be able to be all that I am.

Moving forward to a couple of years ago I remember what it felt like not having to slip off but sitting with a friend I had recently come out to, whose views I knew followed the more traditional line, in a performance by Peterson. Through his drama he explained far more about it all than I could in awkward words.

Then there was the time I sat with a group of people from my church listening to John Bell talking on the subject of human sexuality. There was a view given that I knew you wouldn’t get from the pulpit back home, but we were all able to sit together listening. It meant alot to know my straight friends were considering all the issues involved, even if they didn’t come to the same conclusions as me. This is something which couldn’t / wouldn’t have happened at any other Christian conference / festival.

So has all this meant that Greenbelt has, as is argued, become discrimatory against those who hold alternative views? I don’t think so…what it has meant is that Greenbelt has become somewhere that stories are told rather than arguments and debates held on these issues. Should the stories of those who have positive stories of the ex-gay movement be told? It’s difficult, having heard from far too many people about what the effects of the ex / post gay movement on their lives have been I would worry that vunerable, young, questioning Christians might get sucked into well meaning movements that would actually cause them more harm than good. It might also stop Greenbelt being a safe space.

So where do we go? Well, I would argue that perhaps rather than the ex / post gay movement there might be speakers – space given to those taking a side B approach. For those not aware side B is the position which advocates celibacy for gay Christians. Perhaps there should be a storytelling session with a variety of Christians, taking the different positions, could just tell their stories. No debate or questions….just a storytelling session and then a cake and coffee session afterwards if people wanted to chat on a more informal basis.

As for the decision for Gene Robinson to be invited to speak at Greenbelt this year….well, he is a good speaker. This is the post I wrote after hearing him in Kent last summer. However, I am not convinced by the timing. Had the FCA not just been formed and the American decision not be taken, that Tom Wright has written about in the Times today, it would have been wonderful. As it is it seems that Greenbelt are finding themselves embroiled in more politics than they need to be and rather than supporting the moves that have been going on in recent years this may actually end up meaning that Greenbelt becomes either (i) a ghetto for those who are affirming or (ii) somewhere where the aftermath means that the programming reverts back to where it was back about ten years ago. Perhaps they should have spent the money on a few less high profile LGBT speakers….like getting Peterson back to do his Transfigurations show.

Anyway it appears that my thoughts on this are a bit behind the times….Dave Walker has already talked about this on the Church Times blog site and Auntie Doris was talking about this on Monday.

However, in terms of why it is important for Greenbelt to carry on having LGBT people as part of the main programme I finish with this You Tube clip related to Through My Eyes, the GCN DVD I mentioned a couple of days ago. On the site for this DVD it says “The church is at war over homosexuality. Will our youth be the casualties?” This is the question that I think those on all sides of this debate have to ask themselves.