Preview: Greenbelt Festival

‘With 21,000 people, music, campers and traders aplenty, Greenbelt might look like any other Festival. But scratch beneath the surface and you find something special.’ This is how Greenbelt, the well-known Christian arts festival, introduces itself on its website ( So what is that ‘something special’?

As a regular Greenbelt attendee, I can vouch for the atmosphere of Christian fellowship and inspiration that makes this particular festival stand out. Peace activists speaking on Israel and Palestine rub shoulders with alternative worship experiences such as Sanctus1, religious-themed films such as Babette’s Feast and organizations that run contemplative walks in the countryside around the Festival’s venue at Cheltenham racecourse. There’s something for everyone. I particularly appreciate the wealth of different art forms on offer and the emphasis on social justice. (This last makes it very different from the Youth 2000 Festival at Walsingham, also held over the August Bank Holiday weekend. I prefer Greenbelt every time.)

The 2010 Festival has an impressive line-up. On the talks menu is Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. Heading the literature side is Roger McGough, who was awarded an OBE in 1997 for his services to poetry. For the visual arts, there is Shaeron Caton-Rose’s installation ‘Mirror’, which looks at the obsession with self-image in contemporary society. As for film, the famous 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death, directed by Powell and Pressburger and starring David Niven, takes an unusual and memorable look at the question of life after death.

Richard Rohr is surely one of the best known speakers at this year’s festival, especially for ICN readers. In 1987 he founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a place that seeks to integrate contemplative living with compassionate service. He is also the author of several books, including the fascinating one on personality types, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and is famous for his recorded teachings and international talks. We will have to wait for this year’s festival to see whether he will discuss his latest book, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (2007).

Greenbelt started in 1974, and is known for its family-friendly, welcoming atmosphere and for being rooted in a Christian tradition that is politically and culturally engaged. Its initial emphasis was on celebrating the arts, particularly rock music, but as it grew it gained a global perspective focused on the struggle for justice (again, this will be of particular interest to ICN readers). So that explains Greenbelt’s fascinating eclecticism.

The organization is mainly volunteer-driven. There is the Patron – Archbishop Rowan Williams, a Board of Trustees, a small staff team, a Programming Group, a Festival Operations Management team, team leaders and around 1600 volunteers. Sponsors include Ebico, Frank Water, Ford and the Mothers’ Union, which this year are providing everything from taxis and drinking water to vehicles and help with the kitchen venue. There’s clearly plenty on offer this year to interest new and old festival-goers, and young and old alike. And Greenbelt’s special atmosphere demands to be experienced at first-hand – so brave the August Bank Holiday rain and give it a go!

The Greenbelt Festival takes place from 27—30 August 2010 at Cheltenham Racecourse For more information see:

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