It’s Tuesday evening (26 August) and I got back from Greenbelt last night – I think it was my fifth year of attending. Though I’ve categorised this as news, I’m not sure that Greenbelt is news for Thinking Anglicans. No dancing Archbishop Rowan this year, so it probably won’t make it to the nationals, except the Church Times. But there were connexions with what’s being discussed elsewhere on this site.
The festival, of course, has its origins among evangelicals, though its constituency these days is pretty wide. And for those of us who turned out to the ‘inclusive church’ launch at Putney earlier this month, it was good to hear a rousing endorsement of inclusion and of the peculiarly inclusive nature of Anglican spirituality from Dave Tomlinson, self-proclaimed post-evangelical and vicar of St Luke’s, Holloway: the extent of ‘wiggle room’ in the Church of England was, he said, one of its great attractions for one born and brought up with the Brethren.
Sad, however, to hear just how abstruse and alienating the structures of the CofE can sound when you try to explain them to other people. Christina Rees may have called her seminar ‘Vicars in Knickers’, but explaining the process by which we come to have an Act of Synod and just what resolutions A, B, and C provide moved us a long way from the accessible or the vaguely amusing.
Discussions of ‘emerging church’ encouraged us to look kindly on our failures, when trying out new structures – interesting that we are not encouraged to look so kindly on falling numbers if we stick to old ways!
As always, one of Greenbelt’s great strengths is the presence of missionary and campaigning organisations demanding that we lift our eyes from our own navels: look at urban ministry in the light of what happens in the world’s cities, said USPG; hear the stories of the people and the church of Northern Uganda, said CMS; and, repeatedly, look hard at the patterns of world trade, said Christian Aid.
And think how all of those things play into the asylum debate in this country, said Vaughan Jones, director of the refugee agency, Praxis.
Perhaps Greenbelt is a representation of the CofE itself – anyone attending will find the places and groups with which and whom they feel comfortable. And occasionally they’ll end up in the wrong seminar, or at the wrong service, singing the songs they never meant to sing.
Amidst all this, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know, there was also music, and relaxation, and the odd pint in the bar.