by Jonathan Clatworthy
from Signs of the Times No. 47 - Oct 2012

I missed the worst of the rain at Greenbelt. At the time I was back at my bed & breakfast having a hot bath, feeling sorry for myself after getting so wet and cold in the morning. After the bath I went back to the tent to find it closed up because our stall space had been turned into a river.

The marquee in question is called 'G-Source'; it's where the voluntary societies display their wares. It's just one of many marquees. As well as showcasing great bands, Greenbelt also runs a hugely varied programme of arts, comedy, debate, talks and discussions.  It is a Christian organisation that challenges expectations; it is open-minded, non-judgemental and undogmatic.

There is a strong emphasis on social justice; organisations such as the Church Urban Fund, the Amos Trust and Christian Aid are committed partners. This year the Sunday morning communion service, attended by thousands and led by Nicola Slee and Tess Ward, was particularly memorable. Each year it takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse, and you can witness enthusiastic Christian activities taking place against a backdrop of huge notices saying 'Place your bets here'.

Modern Church was there for the third time; but it was the first time that, instead of booking a single stall just for ourselves, we joined with three other organisations (Progressive Christianity Network Britain, St Marks Centre for Radical Christianity and Inclusive Church) to book a larger shared space. In preparation for this arrangement we had designed a new shared banner (which also splits into four, so each organisation can take away their section) and printed joint paper bags to give away with introductory literature inside. We could also share staffing, although in the event we were not under pressure.

It was a good experience: engaging on matters of faith with festival goers and each other, discussing the festival events and speakers, commiserating with each other when the floods rose around our feet. For 34 hours (including two when we were closed because of the flood!) we staffed the stall with at least one and usually two or three people from each of the four organisations. With 20,000 people attending the festival, there was always someone walking past - to be offered one of the 950 bags which we gave away.

Many thanks to all the Modern Church members who helped over the weekend and especially to our musicians Julian Pugsley and Tim Stead who joined me on stage in the marquee to present the message of Modern Church in song and in discussion. Don't worry - it wasn't me who did the singing.


Jonathan Clatworthy lives in Liverpool and is Modern Church General Secretary. He has worked as a parish priest, university chaplain and lecturer in Ethics.