Love song to a free, church, festival

There's no place like Greenbelt. The festival grounds and the people around the stages and the stalls, the volunteers who staff it all, the speakers, all change. Year to year it's rearranged and different, a new crew, perhaps a new direction, turning faster than a tanker, faster than Theseus's boat, slower than a new festival. But it changes, beautifully.

Alex Baker PhotographyJonathan Langley enjoyed beer and hymns at the Jesus Arms at Greenbelt.

You may have been. A Jesus jamboree, a faith and justice festival featuring all flavours from the length and breadth of our broadest Communion: evangelical and prodigal and welcoming and old. All of them. All of us. And more. A messianic gathering where Gaza's cries are heard at least as keenly as the weeping from Jerusalem. A church with its door off the hinges. A family camp, without cringes. A compound gig for cheering, dancing, crying when the lyrics catch in your throat, or listening at other venues, open-air or canopied or something less in tents. Underground, literally or in Communion with Goths, or poets, hacktivists and heartists. There's no place like Greenbelt.

There's no place like Greenbelt, no. The bookies and the horses don't remember it, the grooms. But it was there. The father's house with castles planted in its many rooms, the greenery, the woods and livestock, and the scenery, scenesters and disciples trailing caravans and tents to camp and listen to the talk of refugees and LGB and Ts and the free hugs roamed like nomad bands, singing songs of welcome.

There's no place like Greenbelt with its Jesus Arms, open late and wide and welcoming the casual drinkers and the experts, the beery singers of hymns, the dancers and snoggers, debaters of justice, the wounded and the well accepting libations in reusable cups. The showers and the toilets never smeared with shit, never robbed of TP. And the joggers round the site so healthy, cheered on, never sneered on, and the party boys and girls and lonesome singers in their teepees playing ocarinas, silent disco Macarenas and the comedy intentional and not around it all. The shower stalls, the vegan food, the bacon butties and the dude with hat and coat of Nephilim, and angels beaming beneficently at the mention of their name.

Alex Baker PhotographyThe Greenbelt mainstage.

There's no place like Greenbelt. With its trying, punk rock, agitprop, pussy rioting and the rainbow flags flying at Communion. Communion. Sunday. In the rain or under sunny skies, the righteous and the wicked taking bread and wine and singing songs of redemption. No matter who we are. The clouds, the ever present clouds come low and fill the temple. There really is.

No place like Greenbelt celebrates the beautiful things that brokenness gives birth to, the broken jars, the clay feet, the us, the me and the U,2, just once or twice. Pushes God's people through the towering waters of confession and tradition and the maddeningly liquid culture, imparted on a line-up for the many tribes, queueing on the dampened sand to reach an honest, promised, mostly just, imagined land. No festival is quite as kind.

There is no place like Greenbelt because it is different for you and me. I interviewed a holy man in robes, you heard transgender poetry and I went to a talk about museums. I laughed and strangely wept at cultured songs about relationships' decline and you sat for The Rising. You did your devotions in the forest and my friends and I danced drunkenly under a floating light and sound machine (the sun machine, is coming down) delighted by the joy of art and wonder, we had a little party in the empty, freezing grounds.

I drank coffee in the roasting morning, hanging, listening to Afro rock. You took your children on a walk and heard a Sufi talk and I drank cider in the park and dangerously dropped my heart in stranger love, platonically. Some people went camping. Some drove to an hotel to take a shower, sleep in a bed, suffer a tragedy. My funny friend and I were glamping. So scared of cold and dying young I wrapped up like an Afghan woman, counting Boughton House's sheep and tally-banning my own sleep with feared asphyxiation. The glamour of the one per cent. They pitched us on a flood plain. But then again we got to wash, with shortened queues and use some private portaloos. Still managed to forget my soap again. And showered pointlessly, singing Whyyyy MCA to hide the absence of the sound of washing.

You were talking with a punk from Russia, picking glitter from your beard. It gets into things, comes home with you, like mud and friendships and ideas. Like the touch of God and the sense that somewhere, maybe, you have a home. Sojourner that you are. You glint and sparkle on your pilgrimage to your real life, a little lighter. A little light, a little warm, thanks to a weekend. It's ridiculous, really.

There's no place like Greenbelt.

Jonathan Langley is a freelance writer and works for a Christian mission and development agency. 

Greenbelt is a Christian festival held at Boughton House, Northamptonshire.

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