Unusually this year, I actually enjoyed events in Centaur. This huge indoor venue (capacity 3000) seemed the first year we used it to represent a kind of middle-aged comfort that had far more to do with Cheltenham racecourse than with the edgy challenge of the Festival. Three years on (I think) it worked well in the three different modes I experienced…
Saturday afternoon it was packed with enthusiastic Greenbelters high as kites on Courtney Pine’s wonderful jazz (thanks, Cal, for assuring me that apparently endless queues needn’t mean there would be no room in the venue…and for your happy company there), singing to order in funky harmony and generally having the time of our lives.
I’m reminded reading other blogs that for some people Greenbelt is mainly a music festival…ironically, it was the music that kept me away for many years, when I was resolutely and exclusively classical in my tastes. It was a huge relief to encounter the breadth of everything else that the Festival now provides…so on Saturday night I was back in Centaur, packed to the gunwhales again, this time for Taize worship. To watch a small girl – no more than 6 at the most, bringing a taper with the resurrection light to those around her with the utmost grace and solemnity was perhaps my Greenbelt Moment par excellence this year. Huge thanks to Anne Hollinghurst and co who arranged it.
My third Centaur experience was of the final Last Orders, late on Monday night...with some excellent comedy from Paul Kerensa - and the realisation as we emerged that it was the legendary Snowy the Steward's birthday. Snowy is such a GB icon - it was just right that giving him birthday hugs was almost the last thing I did during GB 06.
Before that, though, the corporate enthusiasm of the Sunday Eucharist touched me in a way that it hasn’t for the past couple of years…perhaps because I wasn’t with my family, so was able to concentrate on the worship rather than worrying about how they were feeling about it. I was with a random collection of teens/twenties, and when we were asked to arrange ourselves into groups of c20 for Communion they could not have been sweeter, introducing themselves as we exchanged the Peace, and full of touching concern that they should break and share the bread at the right moment and in the right way. Most of you will know that celebrating the Eucharist is one of the poles around which my life revolves, perhaps the most precious part of priesthood for me…but it was a joy to simply receive, and to be able to use whatever words felt right as I passed the bread and wine to the boy beside me. No shadow of anxiety about authorised anythings here- and such a joy to make temporary loving connections in this way.
I received in a different way from some stunning seminars… Sadly, Walter Wink was unwell (that’s the last time I publicly air my excitement about a particular GB headline…it has happened once too often) However at least this relieved me of one or two agonising decisions…though there were plenty more. Try as you might, you simply cannot manage to get to everything that excites you…Which leaves me with the annual question of whether to order any seminar recordings…and if so, whether those I attended and want to mull over, or those I most regret missing. Now I’m not commuting to work daily, I have less opportunity to listen, so I’m really not sure. Something fresh to dither about, then!
Of those I managed, James Alison and Lucy Winkett were perhaps the highlights. I'm very excited that Lucy is willing to come and talk to Gloucester WATCH, - she was hugely inspiring. But of course there was so much to reflect on and inspire…
John Davies (if you don’t know his blog, add it to your lists now….though I have to say he talks even better than he writes and reminded me of my ambition to really live in the place where I’m working, to know and love it thoroughly, to read each and every message of the everyday)…The award for the most personally courageous speaker should go to Sarah Jones,- who simply shone, and had her audience eating out of her hand before we were half way through. I was hugely impressed that she placed me in our brief conversation afterwards...we have people in common, and a very short email exchange this time last year,- phenomenal memory for detail, clearly. A pleasant surprise was Andrew Motion (who can write prose possibly even more engagingly than poetry: his new In the Blood is definitely on my wish-list,-and I loved his description of his official role as "A two edged chalice"!) while my own beloved Bishop was no disappointment. Wish I’d been able to mesh his seminar In step with the rhythm (on the feasts of the secular calendar and the Church could interact with them) with Maggi’s on the Rhythm of the Saints…but there were so many people eager to hear her that I simply couldn’t get in. I heartily approved her selection for God's ipod, though,- and the New Forms cafe was a great venue...specially good to hear her sing one of her own songs to a Greenbelt audience who lapped it up.
Time to reflect while walking the Labyrinth late on Sunday...and while seeking Sanctuary in a humble shed. I always thought I needed a prayer shed at the bottom of the garden...now I'm sure of it!