I used to be a regular camper when I was a teenager, bringing a coachload of fellow teenagers from Bolton in Lancashire for a weekend of cutting edge Christian music, seminars, & the encouragement that comes from knowing you are part of something bigger – very important to teenagers, particularly those who bear the stigma of being committed Christians.So going back was potentially rather strange. What would it be like? Would it be the same, or different? Would I feel out of it, now that I am in middle age? Or would I find myself surrounded by the same people, all 25 years older? What would have changed?
Well there were definitely some changes.There were proper toilets instead of huge holes in the ground covered by rustic wooden frames! Many workshops and talks took place in the luxury of the grandstand of Cheltenham Racecourse instead of packing people into sweaty, muddy marquees. The Main Stage arena was much smaller and just one of many venues, rather than the epicentre of everything. More significantly, the sheer of variety of events on offer was huge with a greater emphasis on speakers, performing arts and activities for children.
When I was a regular, Greenbelt was living out the axiom from Larry Norman’s iconic song “Why should the devil have all the good music?” This was a deeply contentious issue in all our churches. I remember heated exchanges with older church members about the evils of rock music; about how it was wrong to wear denim in church; and the open suspicion of the Christian rock bands like 100% Proof, Rez , & Jerusalem which had converted most of my friends to Christ.Going to Greenbelt then was an opportunity to celebrate a new way of being church, free from the cultural constraints of the past, while at the same time being challenged by the speakers and seminar leaders to think afresh our faith.
So what would I find now - 25 years later?I found that there was less emphasis on music and more emphasis on issues – spirituality, theology, cultural context and social justice.
I found that there were many more opportunities to worship – and extend our experience of God in new ways and new forms.I also found that while there were many more people there who shared my ‘middle age’, there were still teenagers, young people, and children in abundance.
And the cutting edge has changed. Conflict over music and church dress-codes are yesterday’s issues. Time has moved on, and (thank God) so has Greenbelt. For me, the cutting edge at this year’s Greenbelt were around Emergence Churches, with speakers like Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Phyllis Tickle, & Rob Bell – developing a 21st century vision for the Gospel which engages a new generation who are either un-churched, de-churched, or anti-churched.So what were my conclusions?
As I left, I came away from a different Greenbelt to one I went to as a teenager, but still recognisable. I came away encouraged, challenged and elated – and most of all pleased to be reacquainted with a festival which still pushes the boundaries and challenges the conventional view of what it means to be church and what it means to be a follower of Christ.Oh, and yes – I did find some music too! Mostly in the ‘Underground’ - the dark, slightly subversive venue for rock, punk and indie bands where I was considerably older than the average fan. So my thanks to MaLoKai, Spokes, Conduit, Jax Walker & Back Pocket Prophets for providing the musical soundtrack to my Greenbelt 2011.