Tuesday, March 09, 2004

This is fab stuff about Greenbelt if you want some depth ..... or .......... you may want to skip?
Last night there was an evening of Greenbelt Trustees with our valuable partners. This is a presentation given with a background of slides from the festival, Delivered by two fab GB humans - putting flesh and passion into the presentation about festival they love and have poured voluntary time into it/us/kingdom/Greenbelt for years hmmmmmm. It was great.

It is long - ish but great stuff.

Many thanks for joining us tonight. It’s good to get together more informally and share our involvement in Greenbelt. We think Greenbelt is a collective effort, involving the gifts and creativity and energy of many of you as much as us.

It’s a little difficult to know quite how to pitch a presentation on occasions like this – but it seemed a chance to talk the Festival up a little bit, given that in recent years it has been no secret that we have experienced some difficulties.

All the indications we can muster suggest that the Festival is now definitely headed in the right direction – and we thank you for your role in this and urge you to think if you can have a greater role in future, or if you can suggest to us ways in which we can broaden the appeal of Greenbelt and further secure its long term prospects.

The figures are beginning to speak for themselves

In 1999, our first at Cheltenham, just 4,000 people came to Greenbelt, our lowest attendance since the very first time we held the festival way back in 1974 on Prospect Farm. But what a prospect…

Last year, in 2003, we sold out at our licence capacity of 15,000 – and that was out highest attendance since the rain-soaked 1997 festival back in Deene. On present trends – albeit early ones – we could be looking at our fifth consecutive year of increased numbers this summer. Perhaps there really is something in the Cheltenham waters!

This year we’re aiming towards a 17,500 capacity – representing a quadrupling of our festival audience in just six years.

Added to this, is our financial recovery – from a position of being deeply in debt and our enlightening, near-death experience of the mid to late 1990s. At the end of last year, Greenbelt had a debt of £150,000, but that has been reduced from just over £300,000 in 2000. Our intention is to clear this debt by 2005.

Keeping you in touch

The resurgence of the Festival comes at a time when, according to an article in Third Sector magazine recently, lots of Christian organisations are in financial crisis, haemorrhaging supporters (along with their giving and legacies) and beginning to feel like a little Dutch boy trying to plug the flow with his finger.

(The Church of England, for instance, says it lost 100,000 worshippers between 2000 and 2002.)

CMS’s Mission movement director Canon Chris Neal has commented:

"The real issue is the Church's inability to make meaningful connections with contemporary culture. This means that the Church is left with an ageing and declining membership, struggling to maintain historic structures and institutions, and is failing to release its creativity and imagination."

But perhaps the strength of the Church is not only measured in its Sunday attendance. Mother's Union spokeswomen, Clare Berry, puts it like this:

"We believe that the church has the potential to be politically, socially and culturally as well as spiritually relevant to individuals, regardless of whether they are part of a church or religious community," said Clare Berry, spokeswoman at the Mother's Union.

The Church is seen to be present in society when it represents a whole range of wider issues – something we hope to do at the Festival.

We hope that the genius of Greenbelt is its relaxed relationship with the institutional church, its easy-going orthodoxy (what it thinks abut things), its creative orthopraxy (the way it does things), and its broad embrace.

As a festival, it occupies an unusual place in the modern Christian landscape – though perhaps this might not have seemed so unusual in earlier centuries. And we recognise that our associates and partners have to pay heed to the church networks supporting them perhaps more than we do directly.

This is why we’re pleased to work with you. Just as you enrich and diversify our festival base and expression, we believe that we can be a vehicle to help you make connections with new audiences, with the wider culture, and with a surprising future.

A new expression of church

Bishop Graham Cray was the Chair of the Festival two hundred years ago and still returns to speak from time to time. Last month his report, Mission-shaped Church, said that a “culture change is needed to let the fresh air in.” And that the church must abandon the idea that there is “one standard form of church” if it is to survive long into the 21st century.

The report suggests that changes in British society call for “a mixed economy” of church models in order to connect with people who have no concept of Christian faith or pattern of Sunday worship. It has long been the case that people who don’t – or wont – go to church feel right at home at Greenbelt and it is possible that this community of people may grow in the years ahead.

The report lists a range of “fresh expressions of church”. But to many of us, they’re ideas we already take for granted as being quite usual! Greenbelt is a place where new expressions of church have long found a platform.

The report gives special attention to finding better expressions of church for young people. Only 4% of children now attend Sunday school, as opposed to 55 % 100 years ago. It calls this a “time bomb”: a missionary strategy based on the hope that people will return to church someday is misplaced.

By contrast, last year 1,196 children under 11 years old enrolled for the kids’ stuff at Greenbelt, while The Mix kept 600 young people aged 11 -13 happy all weekend. And the numbers of teenagers aged 13 - 18 have been increasing every year for the past five years so that last year we sold youth tickets to 1,132 young people (and that doesn’t include all those who came on family tickets with their parents). In the bigger picture these are small numbers, but we hope that all the young people are finding a new way into the Christian story that will live with them as they grow and develop.

A new way of belonging

At our Angels weekend last weekend, John Bell spoke of Greenbelt modelling a very different sort of belonging – one perhaps unique to a festival one where we are really touched and engaged because it is a place that:
• forces us together physically to rub shoulders with one another

• counteracts the church’s overemphasis on the nuclear family as the primary unit of blessing in God’s economy

• says water is thicker than blood, and where baptism welcomes us into belonging in a new kind of family

• invites us to be touched by testimony of the marginalised and oppressed from others around the world

• accepts refugees from the church – both from the over-liberal and over-conservative wings of it

• touches people with truth, where we are woken up to the big issues that confront us today.
John said we should celebrate our willingness to live on the edge, a place where the common denominator of entrance and acceptance is a simple as ‘Are you looking for God?’ This is Greenbelt as a quest, not a formula; a journey, not a destination, a dance and not a doctrinal package.

The importance of festival

And Mike Riddell, one of our most popular speakers in recent years, goes further. He suggests that in post-Christian times the role of the church might in many instances be being transferred to “sporadic religious festivals” such as Greenbelt.

“These would be motivated not by any agenda to maintain or control a finite group of people, but rather to resource those who have determined their own spiritual pilgrimages and wish to from time to time to nourish their faith through drawing upon specific contributions.”

Certainly, many Greenbelters speak of the festival as being their church. And, although we wouldn’t want to set ourselves up as such, we must realise that they are expressing that, in Riddell’s words again: “it has become for them a centre where their identity is forged and their faith resourced, even though it happens but once a year.”

Last year, our audience spent nearly £70,000 on books at the festival, demonstrating that Greenbelters are an astute, imaginative and influential crowd. They are people who are thinking about their faith as well as trying to live it.

We are continually amazed that more than a thousand people make a donation to Greenbelt every month, such is their identification with what it represents – their trust in the Festival actually keeps it on the road!

At the very least, we hope that, in the Festival that we create with you, people are finding a new way of expressing friendship with God and each other – and authentic ways of worship that will, gradually, filter back into local Christian communities across the country.

The secret you all recognise

Last year we lost one of our most treasured Greenbelt family members, Mike Yaconnelli. Mike was someone who stuck with the festival in thick and thin. He saw in it a sign of the Kingdom he saw only rarely.

He described one Sunday morning Greenbelt communion service:

“I was moved to tears just looking over the crowd and seeing black, white, old, young, punker, straight, children, elderly, worshipping God in total unity. For ninety minutes, the real world of hatred, prejudice, pettiness, and selfishness were forgotten. We were the invisible Church made visible for an instant, and it was truly overwhelming. For a few fleeting moments I got a glimpse of what heaven will be like and I shall never forget it.”

He recognised something unique about a festival, about Greenbelt especially, that it can be a place that can hold argument and diversity together, in contrast to other places where issues are polarised and conflicts heightened.

This is the gift of Greenbelt we believe in and we hope you have recognised. We’re pleased to have you in on the secret. We have a hunch that Greenbelt can offer an increasingly vital, life-giving Christian presence in this country.


You’ve helped Greenbelters translate debates about political engagement and international injustice into vigorous campaigning and you’ve entered into creative collaboration with us on many aspects of the festival.

You’ve enhanced the festival’s identity, helping Greenbelters re-imagine the church as an infectious global conspiracy working for God’s peace, healing and friendship in previously unimagined ways.

If you think, as we do, that Greenbelt might be an icon of the way the Church will be shaped in the coming years, then think about deepening your partnership with us – investing more in our community and drawing more from Greenbelt in ways that might boost the prospects of your own organisations.

We’re glad you have got involved. And we want you to continue being our associates and partners. You enrich our festival and we hope the festival resources your organisations. Together, all our futures might just depend on it.
If you want to be 'more Greenbelt' ..... the best way is to become a 'Greenbelt Ange'l. There is over a thousand people like us who give financially each month andbecome more committed and involved ...... heavenly host stuff! See the website