Tuesday, September 01, 2009

"Standing in the Long Now…" part 1 - Serendipity


Was the theme for this year’s Greenbelt.

What a theme for those of us caught up in feverish activity, in dreaming of 6 impossible things before breakfast and struggling to achieve them.
What a theme for a culture that still seems intent on instant gratification.
One of this year’s festival tee shirts reminded us “Now is all we have” so perhaps I was more conscious that usual of the need to take the festival gently,to savour the moment rather than hurtling with too much determination from seminar to seminar.
Whatever the reason, it worked for me.

I know that I missed some real gems.…
Somehow I failed to get to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber; doubly annoying as not only did she get rave reviews from all those who attended her sessions, but she really inspired Hattie Gandhi, - who normally claims that GB speakers are not for her, that she’s only there for the music and the festival vibe.
I queued fruitlessly for Rob Bell (once – then decided that life and Greenbelt were both too short), for Ikon and for Stephen Cotterel (deep deep fury, as his session was not recorded, but sounded particularly apt as I continue to struggle to achieve balance in my life and in my diary)
Indeed, Sunday was for me the day of standing in the long queues…and of discovering unexpected compensation.

After the service (which I'll hope to blog later) I waited for nearly 90 minutes outside, Centaur, the huge indoor venue where Rob Bell was to speak. It was fine. I had things to read, a spinach pancake to eat, and it wasn’t raining…but alas, when the doors were opened something really un Greenbelty happened as the crowd surged forward rather than proceeding decently and in order. In no time the venue had reached capacity – so I turned disconsolate away and headed for the Tiny Tea Tent to regroup.


But wait…

As many of you will know, while the speakers, the music, the theatre, the whole Festival atmosphere is very close to heaven, it’s the people above all that make Greenbelt heaven on earth…Every year, there are some wonderful meetings and happy reunions, and the days before the festival see many exchanges of mobile numbers, to enable these to happen.
Sometimes, though, it’s a bit harder -for example, when the person you are longing to see is coming from the States, with a phone that doesn’t work in the UK at all….
There are 20,000 people at the festival so it’s horribly possible not to glimpse people whom you DO know and recognise irl., still less find someone whom you only know via their blog.
Lilly Lewin and I have been blog friends for around 4 years now, and I was very excited when she wrote that she’d be at Greenbelt. We agreed that we must meet at the Tiny Tea Tent…We have a mutual friend who has my mobile number, - so I assumed we’d be able to fix something up relatively easily.
I’d failed to take into account the extreme busyness that overtakes this friend once the Festival gets going… He has Very Important Jobs to do and a scarily full agenda. A text to him yielded no results, and I was beginning to worry

Silly, really. I should have known.
Lilly is someone who prays – and isn’t ashamed of including some very practical requests along the way. She was as intent on our need to meet as I was and had reminded God of this that very Sunday morning so perhaps it’s not that surprising that I, who find it almost impossible to initiate a conversation with strangers unless I am in role as a priest, dared to ask the vaguely familiar American woman (does anyone actually look like their profile picture?) just leaving a likely table in the Tiny Tea Tent
“Excuse me, but are you Lilly…?”
and received the answer “YES”!

So, my grumpy failure to get what I thought I wanted led instead to an encounter that was exactly what I needed – friendship confirmed, exciting conversation, and some wise thoughts about a particular situation.
So often a “Greenbelt moment” is very much a God thing, and this one certainly was.

Another came later that same day, when yet again I was too late to make it into a venue – this time the beer tent for Beer & Hymns. I’m hopeless at estimating numbers, but there were surely a couple of hundred of us left sadly outside the picket fence, while the empty “beer garden” recalled the great gulf fixed between Dives and Lazarus, dividing us from the happy souls within, who could both drink and sing.
After a rather sadly ironic interlude during which a man near me decided to lay into the steward about the madness of the restrictions, and the unreasonableness of a festival that was trying to protect the safety of its visitor, while all around him the crowd sang “Praise my soul the king of heaven”, things looked up.
We might be beerless, but nothing could stop us singing. I was surrounded by good voices, who were quick to pick up parts and we had the time of our lives.
At one point a learning impaired adult left the crowd in the beer tent to leap on a table and conduct us
At another we sang my desert island hymn “And can it be”
That hymn has been part of so many important events for me – my farewell service at my sending parish, my first Mass, my licensing here – but singing it with all that I had, as I stood beneath the sign of the Jesus Arms, was maybe the best of all.
In case you hadn't noticed - I do so love Greenbelt!


Anonymous said...

Sooooo jealous. Glad you had a great time.

Mary B said...

Having bumped into you spontaneously t every other Gb, whether or not we'd arranged to meet, I assumed it would be so again. But I never got even a glimpse of you, despite being in the same queues. I'm baffled that you didn't get into Ikon - it didn't feel particularly full, although the extreme anxiety about fire hazards (lots of brushwood piled round the team's feet) may have meant restricted numbers.
Next year at Greenbelt.....

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Sounds like you had a great time, despite not being able to get to some of the events you wanted.

My "desert island" hymn is "Jesus is Lord, Creation's voice proclaims it". We sang it at our wedding and at my commissioning, and I have told everybody that if they don't sing it at my funeral, I shall come back and haunt them!

Song in my Heart said...

We might be beerless, but nothing could stop us singing.

Oh, this made me smile. And in the back of my head I am trying to connect it to the theme of the festival, with interesting results...

Rainbow dreams said...

so wonderful - seems the tiny tea tent was THE place to meet up this year :) I didn't get to so many things, but did really appreciate all that I did...and have to think - there's always next year!

marcella said...

Sorry to those who didn't get in to the tent when I did! My friend and I were the last in. Mind you it looked fun outside too.

steve said...

oh the guilt
i didn't get to meet you at all
to explain ... i did get you message a couple of hours after you had sent it ... and thought i have so missed the moment ... had every intention of calling once i had finished something and then forgot

i am sorry
publicly and fully
i am a very bad friend

especially considering i do the whole A meet B so C can happen every day of my life

i am so glad that you met despite my shoddy behaviour and i promise to try and do better

i keep thinking i should arrange one big gathering/party on night one so i can see everyone in one go ... or is that a little selfish?

note to friends -+ 11pm every night for at least one hour beer tent ... standard practise to avoid these kind of situations

but i am truly sorry

Kathryn said...

But it was FINE Steve and gave us much more to be excited about than if we had had a proper rendez vous set up...And I know better than to really expect to see you at Greenbelt...though will remember the beer tent scenario for next year (if I can tear myself away from Last Orders - they always seem to have someone I'm sad to have missed...and then there's the whole making the most of Jude while she's here thing too!)
And I spend my entire life forgetting to do things like call people. It's OK. Relax...
Hugs x

Anonymous said...

What a great blog!

I was one of the lucky ones to get into the Beer and Hymns tent and I loved the linking of everyone both inside and outside the tent at the end, it was a great touch.

I thought the fact people were prepared to stand locked out and just do "Hymns" was brilliant. Greenbelt is so great, moments like that are special indeed!