Greenbelt is a Christian arts festival that’s been running over the August Bank Holiday weekend for over 40 years. Like any organisation, the festival has changed shape and outlook over time. That’s compounded by having navigated several changes of location, and coming close to insolvency more than once. So as a long-standing participant, I’m delighted it’s flourishing again in its latest home at Boughton House in Northants.
There’s a strong resonance between St Martin’s and Greenbelt. Both seek to be radically inclusive. Both celebrate diverse expression of the arts. Both bring provocative ideas and interesting people to one’s attention. Both believe that music opens up the heavenly realm for us.
Just as at St Martin’s, one never knows how God is going to surprise one at Greenbelt. I’ve become life-long friends with Nic, who asked a question at a seminar, and with whom I then struck up a conversation. Nic in turn helped me to discover Bruce Cockburn at Greenbelt, the Canadian singer-songwriter who’s subsequently provided the soundtrack for my life.
At my first Greenbelt I stumbled across a tent with a group of Scots leading a capella singing. I know them now to be John Bell and the Wild Goose Worship Group. Their ‘Big Sing’ at Greenbelt, with hundreds of strangers singing four-part harmony together, is a taste of heaven, without fail.
It’s in those chance encounters that I’ve often met God at Greenbelt. An unexpected conversation with a security guard, who’d previously been homeless. Bumping into an old friend not seen for many years. A sudden camaraderie with strangers sat next to one at the Sunday Eucharist of thousands. So I’ll be keeping my eyes open, looking to be surprised where I’ll meet God again this year. Perhaps in the new programme celebrating Muslim culture. Who knows?
Revd Dr Alastair McKay