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2012: Saving Paradise, Cheltenham, England
Worshipper: Benny Diction.
Festival 2012: Saving Paradise, Cheltenham, England.
This was an open air service held in a very muddy field at Cheltenham
Racecourse, Gloucestershire. At the front of the field was a
large stage used to house pop acts that perform over the weekend.
But in the middle of the field a small stage had been built,
and this had an altar on it. Given the very muddy conditions
(the previous day the site had been hit by several torrential
thunderstorms), it wasn't clear whether the intention had been
for the altar to be located there all along, or whether it had
been moved as people could not get to the front of the stage
due to mud and deep puddles. (Well, not so much puddles as mini-lakes!)
Greenbelt is an arts, faith and justice festival that has been
running at various locations in the UK for 39 years. It has
been at Cheltenham since 1999. Around 20,000 people each year
attend the festival: some for the day, others camping on site
for the whole time. The lineup of speakers and musicians is
Cheltenham itself is a lovely, genteel town with a population
of around 120,000. The racecourse is located on the edge of
town near the Cotswold Hills, an area of outstanding natural
beauty. Cheltenham was a 19th century spa town where fashionable
folk would come to take the waters. Nowadays it is home to two
prominent private schools and plays host to a number of other
festivals, including music, jazz, literature and science, as
well as the famous horse racing festival in March of each year.
The UK government's listening post GCHQ is also located in the
town, so be careful what you say as they might be listening!
This being Greenbelt, there was a cast of thousands. An air
of confusion surrounded the whole service due to the weather
and the Greenbelt team having to work around the bad conditions.
So it was never made clear who was who. The lineup for the service
in question is listed in detail on Greenbelt's website, so let's
proceed on the assumption that the folk listed there are the
ones who appeared.
The date & time:
Sunday, 26 August 2012, 10.30am.
have received a comment
on this report.
What was the name of the
An Elemental Eucharist.
How full was the building?
It is very difficult to judge numbers, but there were probably
at least 10,000 people present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. As people trooped in from different directions, we were
handed an order of service by one of the volunteer marshals
who were identifiable by their bright yellow high visibility
Was your pew comfortable?
There are no pews. You bring your own chair. Usually Mrs Diction
and I sit on the ground on a picnic rug, but given the muddy
conditions we stood for the whole service. Other people sat
on camp chairs and deck chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service
It's always chaotic, but this year was an utter shambles! People
were hunting round trying to find some dry ground on which to
sit or stand. And then as the service started, the RAF's aerobatic
team, the Red Arrows, happened to fly over, making a lot of
noise and causing people to concentrate on the nine aircraft
rather than the celebrant.
What were the exact opening words of the
They were lost, given the deafening roar from the aircraft.
But they were probably (according to the order of service) an
invitation to join in singing the chant song "Come all you people
come and praise your maker."
What books did the congregation use during the
We had an order of service that contained the liturgy and the hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a worship band made up of a number of musicians. We
were stood a long way from the stage, and there was no big TV
screen this year, so I could tell exactly how many, what instruments,
Did anything distract you?
Mud, standing water, the Red Arrows.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The theme of this year's Greenbelt was "Saving Paradise," so
it was to be expected that nature would feature in the worship.
Consequently there were lots of animal-themed songs that were
suitable for children. So until the eucharist, worship felt
like a being in a Sunday school class for seven-year-olds with
learning difficulties. At the start of the service, people were
given a brown paper bag containing a pita bread and a small
bottle of wine. These were then shared with a group of around
20. This time the youngest shared the bread round and the oldest
Exactly how long was the
I didn't time it. It was not actually a sermon. Instead there
was A Piece for Voices written by Nicola Slee, a theologian
and poet with a particular interest in faith development, liturgy,
and women’s spirituality. It was some minutes before the
people around me and I realised that the reading had started,
but I would estimate it lasted no more than 15 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
1 The Piece for Voices consisted of four female
voices taking the part of the four elements (earth, fire, water
and air), with another voice being Jesus and the narrator. Sadly,
the piece was read slowly and ponderously, and all the narrators
had bland, dull voices. I'm sorry, but someone really needed
to have found people who could read with passion and not monotony
if the piece had any hope of working. As it was, I found it
all awful and meaningless.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
That's a good question! In essence, it focused on fire (the
Holy Spirit?) being present throughout Jesus' life. Fire was
there in the beginning in the stars. It helped to boil the water
used by the midwives at Jesus' birth (Matthew and Luke must
have missed that detail). After each reference to Jesus and
fire, there was then some contemporary comment linking to fire.
The weirdest was, "I like to make cakes and cupcakes."
This prompted a comment from someone standing near me: "Blessed
are the cupcake makers," which got a few people giggling. There
was also some reference to "the daughters of Jesus." Maybe The
Da Vinci Code was right after all?
Which part of the service was like being in
As always, the sharing of the eucharist was special. The words
of the liturgy were good. And the worship band played a song
by the folk rock group The Waterboys called "Bring 'em all in."
The words were slightly adapted to fit and I found it very powerful.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, the Piece for Voices has to get a mention. As
does the sheer idiocy of the suggestion that in order properly
to commune with the earth, we had to take our shoes and socks
off. Hello! Have you seen the mud? But the most hellish part
had to be the singing of a song called "Wonderful world" by
Fischy Music (go look it up). As we got to the verse "Beehive,
honeycomb, racing pigeon flying home..." I lost the will to
live! Where were the words of Wesley? Or Watts? Or even Graham
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Afterwards there was a slight sense of being stunned by the
sheer awfulness of the service. Then I trudged off through the
mud to find a cup of coffee.
How would you describe the after-service
It was a case of buying your own coffee from one of the many
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 I love Greenbelt. I love the good speakers. Many were
excellent. I also like the wide variety of music. But the main
act of worship seems to get worse and worse. Mrs Diction and
several women in our group commented afterwards that there is
a tendency at Greenbelt worship to let women take the lead,
as if to prove to the Roman Catholic Church and the Forward
in Faith movement that women do indeed, after all, have a ministry.
But this is done to the exclusion of men, and so it is every
bit as exclusivist as a male dominated service. And Greenbelt,
please note: not all denominations have a problem with women
in ministry, so you don't have to keep trying to prove your
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
No. Even though the eucharist was special, I came away feeling
very, very flat. I'm sorely tempted to give it a miss next time
or try something else.
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Blessed are the cupcake makers."
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