7 September 2011

Greenbelt, my faith and music

Back in the nineties, I was a Greenbelt regular. At that time, it was for the music, and for one band in particular, that I made the journey. I recall a number of very damp Northamptonshire weekends where we'd pitch up ridiculously early at mainstage so we could get a spot right at the front.

As I continued to do the Greenbelt thing, I also stumbled across John Bell and the Wild Goose Worship Group. I recall many late night events in cold tents where we were taught new and exciting music in multiple voice parts. This led to me going on a week long course run by John and his colleagues to teach people how to teach music to others).

In some way, these two small snapshots of my Greenbelt memory are quite telling in terms of where I am now. Many people think that Westcott students all fit neatly into an Anglo-Catholic shaped box, but like others, I find the truth is more complex and more interesting. Whilst Greenbelt has grown into a something of a phenomenon in the world of social justice, attracting names like Mark Thomas and Billy Bragg, when I started going it was all about the music (for me anyway). It was about modern and exciting Christian music from bands like Eden Burning, and it was about challenging the way I thought about music in church, through John Bell and his colleagues.

There was a big gap between my last Greenbelt in the nineties, and my return to GB11. Many things have changed: the venue, my circumstances (I had neither a wife nor a child the last time), the festival content, the quality of the loos... the list goes on. But for me, the important thing was still the music.

Going to GB11 with LittleLanky was a very different experience from GB in the nineties. We didn't actually get to many sessions over the weekend. What we did manage, though, was a Big Sing and Monday night at mainstage with Kate Rusby and Iain Archer (amongst distinguished others).

I suppose what I'm getting at (in a roundabout way) is that music is central to who I am as a Christian, and it isn't possible to fit me into a neat #choralevensongonlyplease Westcott shaped box (and the same is true for many of my colleagues). I'm intrigued about music and its role in my spirituality. I'm intrigued that I'm perfectly at home leading fairly charismatic worship with a guitar round my neck (albeit of dubious musical merit), I'm happy teaching songs from Africa and South America in parts and I'm comfortable directing a choir for a traditional Anglican choral service. There's something in all of those that speaks to me of God, and of worship. There's something that compels me to want to be involved! I seem to need all these and more!

I suppose that's what I like about Greenbelt. It allows me to be myself in a way that I haven't found elsewhere - even after a break of more than 10 years. It provides me with the unpigeonholeable selection of music that fleshes out my particular and peculiar faith.

The Cambridge Theological Federation could be a similar place for folk. It's a collection of people doing academic work in different branches of our complicated church. As well as institutions from pretty much all the major denominations in England, it also contains two theological colleges from the Church of England, each representing a different aspect of Anglicanism. Despite this diversity, we easily slip into a scary silo mentality. "They won't like that because they're from (insert name of institution)". Sometimes, these prejudices are born out in behaviour and conversation, but I sometimes wish we could get past the petty territorial nature of being human, and get onto the business of being a better church! Maybe if we spent more time worshipping together; understanding each other's spirituality by experiencing it, we might learn more.

Rediscovering Greenbelt has been great for me, and it has been wonderful to see DrLanky, LittleLanky and other friends of mine enjoying it too. I feel that it will become again for me what it seems to be for others; a special weekend in the year where much of the nonsense and conflict of life in the church is left outside. Where I can express the full complex and unfathomable diversity of my own faith in a safe, supportive and well resourced place.


  1. This was an intersting read and I am glad that you have had a good time.

    It is also wonderful to read of you finding or rediscovering what makes you tick with God. I am glad that you are resisting the urge that many people have to label themselves and fit into a box.

    Westcott House is one of those bizarre places where I think most people define it by what it is not. As an Anglo-Catholic, I tended to see it as a place that wasn't as much Anglo-Catholic as it was liberal. Liberals I have known have sometimes seen it as a place that was less liberal than it was Anglo-Catholic.

    I hope you hear about a possible curacy soon. Life is wonderful outside of theological college--whichever one one goes to--and there is a whole world of just trying to get on with things which means that there is not much time for labelling or trying to fit boxes. (If people still do this, then perhaps they ought to think about another job?)

  2. Thanks Matthew. After my summer placement, I'm itching to get on with curacy now- only 9 months now!