What draws me back to Greenbelt year after year – Interview with Katharine Crowsley

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Katharine (right) and her daughter at Greenbelt 2014

Pioneer student Katharine Crowsley gives us a bird’s eye view of Greenbelt 2014, in conversation with Helen Harwood.

You said it was a fantastic new site despite the access issues. Can you say a bit more about the location and the CMS involvement this year, please? Paint us a picture!

The new site really resonated with what Greenbelt is about, ecological issues, connecting with the environment spiritually and the overall theme of travelling light. I loved the new site despite the problems carrying everything on and off the site and I think that discipline of having to reduce down the amount of baggage you took with you was helpful. You could only take what is absolutely essential and that in itself was a challenge. But this is what we sometimes need to do, literally and metaphorically, to pare everything right back and leave our baggage behind. Going into Greenbelt with that frame of mind was helpful to be open to what you would hear, learn and absorb. However the access issues were a problem for some and need to be sorted for next year to enable all to fully appreciate what Greenbelt offers.

The Boughton estate was beautiful and a wonderful setting for Greenbelt. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Cheltenham and the open site looking up to the hills of the Cotswolds, but Boughton had an intimacy and connection with the natural world. It was so green with trees and bushes in abundance and the Glade stage set in its forest clearing surroundings, with multi-coloured flags fluttering and sheltered nature was much more suitable for the main stage performances and the Sunday communion.

It also felt like Greenbelt was smaller and more compact this year, certainly in terms of distance between campsites and festival village which is a bonus at the end of a long day and certainly in terms of the proximity of the Glade stage to the Big Top which could be walked in five minutes or less.

CMS was based in the G-Source tent where all the Christian organisations and charities are housed. It was a huge white tent which was very hot at times but on a rain-filled Monday it became a welcome source of shelter. CMS didn’t have such a big presence at Greenbelt this year in terms of running a venue (last year they ran the Kitchen venue) but it seemed as if the amount of people actually engaging and asking about CMS itself was greater. The CMS stand took the form of a small gazebo type structure that worked very well as it drew people in and encouraged them to spend time engaging with the ‘another world is possible’ display (they could interact by writing on the wall about how you imagined a better world or chatting to CMS representatives about mission opportunities and pioneering).

I know the whole vibe was very much in keeping with Greenbelt’s environmentally friendly philosophy, can you say a bit more about that, please?

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A beautiful new greenfield site

One thing I noticed was how clean the site was. This was particularly marked when I saw devastation left at the Reading site after their festival. People cleaned up after themselves at Greenbelt and there were volunteers in evidence picking up rubbish through the festival. This gave an important message to young and old that it is possible to look after the world you are inhabiting, epitomised in this small estate in Northamptonshire, and that ‘another world is possible’.

There was a whole venue called the Grove set within a clearing of trees and this was the place to experience Forest Church and connect with God as creator, then across the lake from the Grove was the Mount, set up on the top of a man-made hill. You could climb up and look out over the whole site or lie on your back looking at the sky listening to the likes of Nadia Bolz Weber and Doug Gay giving their ‘sermons on the Mount.’ The venues in themselves allowed you to connect with the created world by being within in it rather than imposed upon it.

What is it that draws you back to Greenbelt year after year?

What draws me back to Greenbelt year after year is the sense of spiritual renewal that I experience there. I love the eclectic and challenging nature of Greenbelt. I come here to listen and also to ask questions, to be encouraged and to be assured. There is a sense of feeling very much at home at Greenbelt and being among friends. This is literally true as it seems that everywhere you go you bump into someone you know. I leave Greenbelt ready to start a New Year, in fact I feel that the New Year starts for me almost as soon after a return from Greenbelt as I am filled with enthusiasm and ideas for the future. This year I brought a couple of young members of my community Cook@Chapel and they loved it. That in itself is testimony to Greenbelt and its wider appeal, particularly to those who have not come from a traditional church background but are exploring faith.

I know that feeling of literally bumping into people, sometimes for me it will happen the minute I arrive! I also know your highlights were Nadia Bolz Weber, Folk On and Bethlehem unwrapped. Can you tell me a bit more about why?

Nadia Bolz Weber has such positive but challenging approach delivered with her black humour dating from her time as a stand-up comedian. What stayed in my mind was her message to the church on how we deal with tragedies in a way that is not sentimental or trite but is real. Her sermon on the mount was about blessings and how we should be open to receive them.

Folk On with their hilarious country life based humour rocked the main stage despite the rain on Monday afternoon and put a smile on everyone’s face with old favourites like Ernie the Slug (and very ironically) You Can’t Take the Sunshine From Me.

Bethlehem Unwrapped was fascinating: Palestinian dancers, Harry Baker’s poetry, the exquisite Tallis singers and a film about the recreation of the Bethlehem separation wall outside St James’s Piccadilly last Christmas. Seeing the size and scale of the wall was quite frightening and intimidating, challenging my woeful ignorance and making me determined to try to understand more of this war torn region.

Can you say more about the opportunities to meet and chat with other pioneers, and how you were re-energised over the weekend?

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CMS mission partners Anna and Chris Hembury (centre) talk with Mark Berry and Andy Freeman during one of CMS’s Possible World sessions at Greenbelt 2014.

The opportunity to meet and chat with other pioneers was provided partly by the CMS stand as a focal point and also by Andy Freeman’s regular meet up slots at the Tiny Tea Tent. And of course the Pioneer Party! Greenbelt is a great opportunity to bump into other pioneers. I sat down for a much needed catch up with pioneers, sharing stories, sharing problems and sharing ideas, all of them important. Greenbelt is small enough that you don’t need to walk too far without bumping into another pioneer. I know I’m not alone and that many of the pioneers benefited from the chance to have encouraging spirit-filled conversations, to ‘regroup for mission’ and also to share the enthusiasm from the CMS community with others.

What is going to stay longest with you from the weekend and what will you input into your ministry and life?

What I will take away is being relaxed, feeling blessed by seeing so many good friends, a chance for silence and reflection, a chance to laugh until I cried, and some beautiful, spirit blessed, shared time with my daughter. Hopefully I will be able to bring some of the spirit of Greenbelt into my ministry, the connection with the natural world, the need for space and silence and the sense of community. I left Greenbelt feeling challenged but affirmed in my pioneering with enthusiasm and energy for the year ahead.

Wow, I really envy you that time, especially the chance to share it with family and meet up with friends. We all need that kind of re-charge of spiritual batteries. Katharine, how can we pray for you?

Please pray for Cook@Chapel, the fresh expression of church for young people from non-church and church backgrounds that I am pioneering in our local community. Please pray for the young people who are members of Cook@Chapel as they start a new year at school or college. Pray that their Christian faith may strengthen and grow. Pray for our volunteer helpers and management group that they are able to help Cook@Chapel develop and be a blessing to the local community and beyond.

Thank you Katharine. Please do continue to pray for Greenbelt. I am sure the impact it has on so many people is really positive and energising. For those who organise and work at Greenbelt it must be exciting but also exhausting, so please do pray for all the team, and the CMS team involved in the CMS stand at Greenbelt this year.

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