Greenbelt 2010

I’ve just finished my first journey to the Greenbelt festival in the UK. It takes place at a horse racing track, in a lovely town called Cheltenham, in the green rolling hills of the English countryside. Tourists come from all over to the area to take in the beauty of the area. The festival has been running for nearly forty years, and has developed a tremendously loyal following among the attendees. I lost count of the number of people I talked to, who said that they’ve been coming for fifteen years or more, only missing once or twice in that whole time. It has really become an important annual pilgrimage for many Christians in the UK. About 20,000 people come each year, the vast majority of whom will pitch a tent and camp on the festival grounds.

Greenbelt is similar to the Christian festivals in the United States, in that the program is dominated by music acts and speakers. At Greenbelt, though, there are many more options for seeing speakers than the U.S. festivals I’ve been to. The similarities between U.S. festivals and Greenbelt really stop there. The whole mood of the place is distinct for a number of reasons. People seem to be much more relaxed when it comes to diversity of Christian experience, political backgrounds, and general lifestyle choices. It is a place that pushes your conscience in terms of political engagement and issues of social justice, but not in a preachy way – just right.

I didn’t see any of the big name speakers or musicians on the bill (Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Rohr, Jars of Clay), but I caughtseveral very good talks by some lesser known folks. Mostly, I just spent time with friends – both from the US and the UK. I completely understand why this is such an important annual pilgrimage to folks. As one new friend described it, it’s almost as if a new tribe has emerged over the years – the “Greenbelt Christians.”

I’ll write more in another post about this, but for you USAmerican types who may never have a chance to experience Greenbelt for yourselves, you can rejoice, because plans are under way for a festival in the spirit of Greenbelt. Look out for the Wild Goose Festival, coming your way in 2011 (do a search for them on Facebook for more info).

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