Under the Silent Stars - Greenbelt 2016

By Virginia Moffatt
August 31, 2016

Greenbelt 2016 got off to a great start this year, when my son, Jonathan, and I arrived at the bookshop to be greeted by the sight of Ekklesia books in the recommended section.

Photo: Jonathan Cole

We were also pleased to see that The Upside Down Bible by Ekklesia Associate Symon Hill was prominently displayed and were grateful for the warm welcome from the incredibly helpful bookshop staff.  It set the tone for a fantastic weekend, full of good music, excellent company and the opportunity to stay at a beautiful campsite.

But, although we were there to enjoy ourselves, I also had work to do. Saturday morning saw me head off to the Treehouse to hear our Associate, Savi Hensman, discuss her book, Sexuality, Struggle and Saintliness:same sex love and the Church. Tracing the history of Christians who have challenged church teaching on LGBTI issues, she gave a fascinating and entertaining talk that was well received by a crowd of at least 200 people.

Photo: Virginia Moffatt

Later that afternoon, I was invited to give a pop-up talk at the Quaker Stand in G Source about crowdfunding my novel, Echo Hall, which looks at the impact of unresolved conflict on future generations. Unfortunately, after 24 hours of blazing sunshine, my slot coincided with the first wave of torrential rain and storms that drove punters away from the gazebos at G Source, so the audience was small, but perfectly formed. However, the talk was well received, and as always, the Quakers were great hosts. I stayed in the tent to hear a speaker from EAPPI talk about his experiences in Palestine, where he observed Palestinian homes being demolished – a powerful speech that really showed the full horror of home demolitions.

Afterwards I hooked up with Jonathan, fresh from listening to Mahalia, a new young singer who'd had the aplomb to respond to the electrics going down by jumping into the crowd and going acoustic. Jonathan loved it!. We were getting cold and in need of a drink, so went over to the Christian Aid cafe, which we reached before the second deluge. This one was worse than the first with heavy thunder, lightning, wind and driving rain. The huge tent was jampacked, the whole edifice shaking from the bombardment of the weather. We drank our hot drinks and were grateful for the shelter that wavered but was strong enough to resist the elements. Sadly, it was too difficult to venture out, so we missed Savi's second appearance on a panel discussing 'Scrap the Church', but passing later, it looked like it was extremely well attended.

One of the many wonderful things about the Boughton festival site is the good drainage. Last time  we were in a Greenbelt storm (at Cheltenham in 2012), the site was flooded, with various places turned into soupy thigh-high mud. This year, we were astonished when we emerged to find the grass wet, but walkable on, with patches of mud at a minimum. I was worried about our tent though, so I went to check it. Luckily, it had survived the storm despite a pool of water at the entrance. Though this did trickle onto the groundsheet, so I had a bit of mopping up, the inner pod was dry, meaning we had a comfortable night later.

Then it was time for our housing panel in the Pagoda. I was worried that after the storm everyone would have had enough of being indoors, especially at 6.45pm. But it's a sign of how important the issue is that 200 people came out to hear us. I introduced the session explaining why Ekklesia had commissioned Foxes Have Holes: Christian reflections on Britain's housing need, before handing over to Alastair Murray from Housing Justice who described some of the key issues – the selling of council housing, lack of new building, the inflated property market and the 2016 Housing Bill. Andrew Francis, the editor of the book, described how we needed to tackle the housing crisis, whilst Chandra Morbey, of the Derby Night Shelter gave a lively account of how a group of churches in Derby had responded to the cutting of homeless services in the city. The audience was engaged and committed and we had a fascinating Q&A at the end. It was a good way to round off the day.

Photo by Jonathan Cole

We weren't able to stay till Monday unfortunately, so we missed Symon Hill's talk, though I understand it was extremely well attended. Our Greenbelt finished on Sunday after Jonathan had played a bit of football, I'd spent a bit of time praying at the Hush prayer stations, and had caught snippets of Christopher Meredith's brilliant analysis of the Hebrew meanings for the opening of Genesis.

All in all, even though I didn't get to half the things I wanted to, this was a wonderful Greenbelt. I  met old friends and new, enjoyed the quieter, calmer campsite (with a fantastic all night cafe), and the beautiful setting.  As always, nothing was too much trouble for the friendly volunteers, in blazing sunshine or apocalyptic rain,  and I left feeling I had walked away from a little bit of heaven on earth. This was confirmed for me yesterday, when someone posted a picture on Facebook of the mess left after the Leeds Festival. It was followed immediately by Greenbelt posting a picture of post-festival Boughton, no litter, no tents, the fields returned to their natural state.  Looking after each other, looking after the earth – that's the spirit of Greenbelt. I can't wait for next year.


© Virginia Moffatt is Chief Operating Officer of Ekklesia.

* Greenbelt Festival  http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/

*Talks from Greenbelt can be downloaded here: http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/talks/

*'Sexuality, Struggle and Saintliness: same sex love and the church'  by Savitri Hensman, 'Journeys in Love and Grace: revisiting scripture and sexuality' by Jayne Ozanne and 'Foxes Have Holes: Christian reflections on Britain's Housing Need' edited by Andrew Francis, can be ordered via Amazon:




or by emailing office@ekklesia.co.uk (except for the book by Jayne Ozanne).

* 'The Upside Down Bible' by Symon Hill is available from Darton, Longman & Todd http://dltbooks.com/.

* You can pledge your support 'Echo Hall' by Virginia Moffatt here: https://unbound.co.uk/books/echo-hall

Keywords:Greenbelt | Ekklesia
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