The problem with life at the moment is that there are no deadlines. I know that is the idea of a sabbatical - time to take life a little slower, reflect rather than react - but the danger is that the days drift by with no real purpose, and the things I meant to do - just don't get done. It doesn't help of course when the Monday morning when Chris goes back to work and I have set myself a deadline to get the blog up to date, reflect on the service I went to on Sunday, review the book I've just finished and start on the next one - goes by the board as I spend the day listening and watching the news from Manchester City - richest club in the world?! gazumping Chelsea?! Three days later its still a shock - and so if anyone reads this and is waiting with baited breath for my reflections from Greenbelt - I've been otherwise engaged and I really do need deadlines to get myself in gear.
I first went to Greenbelt in 1982 (annoyed at missing U2's only performance the previous year) and went every year until 1988 when we discovered that its format at that time was difficult with a baby in tow. We returned in 2001 and found an event with a new ethos and vitality (where taking a baby would have been no problem). Since then it has become the place that refeshes, gives hope - reminds me that the church is a wonderful place full of energy and ideas. I return to Rochdale invigorated, usually with some new Hymns, usually with some new insights that I need to share with the congregations here. It is a wonderful festival that has grown and evolved over the years. In its early days it was largely a music festival with a fringe. Now the fringe has grown and many of the headliners are the speakers - this year Brian McLaren, Philip Yancey, Joel Edwards and John Bell. This year there was no musician that I desperatly wanted to see - although one or two I'd have quite like to see but circumstances meant I missed - and from the comments I heard I think most people were underwhelmed by the headliners. As ever there are new acts to be discovered in the Performance Cafe and Underground - and that is about tripping over the unexpected.
This year was a different experience - Greenbelt relies on volunteers for almost all its organisation, and this year I was there as a Volunteer. My job was to work as a Venue Manager- one of three people ensuring that one venue is able to fulfill its programme. Looking after contributers, liasing with stewards, taking responsibility for health and safety, keeping the customers satisfied - just like being a Minister! I had a great time - despite the problems. Our Venue was called Foxhunter (Greenbelt takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse and so the rooms used have names relevant to horse racing - although Foxhunter is now called Festival that is too confusing at a festival and so Greenbelt still uses its old name - is that clear? No it wasn't for some folk trying to find the venue either). The venue is billed as the Film venue but it also hosted talks and discussions and I was surprised to find that I was also expected to operate the technical equipment - DVD player, projector, vision mixer (I think it is called), PA, any computers speakers turned up - fine when using my own equipment set up in a way I understand - tricky when using equipment set up by someone else which steadily began to fail as the weekend went on.
I first had an inkling of how things might be when the first speaker walked in and asked for the OHP they had been promised - we had no OHP, no one had mentioned an OHP, a phone call to the office we had ben told would be there whenever we needed them, went unanswered and a quick visit was met with blank looks. Thankfully the speaker was accomodating and passed her acetates around. The next speaker plugged her computer into the projector and not only was it out of focus (a problem solved the next day by plugging straight to the projector rather than through the vision mixer) but her presentation reduced to part of the screen - I think it was something to do with her settings, but there was no time to play with it - so we batted on. My real fun began the next day - I was responsible for the evening session - taking over from my colleague part way through the slowest, most boring film I've ever seen (the customers didn't agree because they managed to have half an hour of discussion which had to curtail as time was up and the next film was due. "BecauseThe Bible Tells Me So" is a fascinating film looking at the reactions to homosexuality within the church, in particular focusing on five family stories of people coming to terms (or not) with their childrens homosexuality. It was a popular film as the room filled up I lined up the DVD - discerr said the machine - I tried the two spare copies - discerr. I knew they had been alright the day before, I had checked them - but now the machine was rejecting every copy. I rang the technical support number we had been given that day - nothing wrong with the machine he said, it's top of the range, brand new - must by the disc, can't help, buy - phone call over. We tried cleaning the discs - and this time it loaded, but was soon jumping and freezing and we clearly couldn't continue. An appeal for a laptop produced an Australian one - set to that region - but thankfully someone knew were there was a spare DVD player - a cheap one, probably bottom of the range somewhere and it worked a treat and we all managed to watch the whole film without any difficulties. The next day we were told that the DVD player will only play properly copyrighted DVD's so that no copies can be used - these wern't copies, they had come from the productio company withthe right permissions - and as time went on it was clear that the machine was the problem not the DVD's. In fact we only managed to run the programme we had been given because one of the other venue managers had his laptop with him and we ended up using that to show everything else. Not ideal, and not without difficulties at times - but at least the show was kept on the road.
The highlight for me was meeting an Oscar winner. I was managing the venue on Monday morning when Will Becher from Aardmann Animations came along to show three short films. We crammed people in - reaching our limit by bringing all the children to the front and squeezing people in. The films were great, the questions and answers informative - but the star of the show was Grommit, taking a day off from filming the new Wallace & Grommit fim that will be out for Christmas, and here he is (with two grinning, relieved venue managers)
So my experience of Greenbelt this year was full of problems, but it was great - and if they will have me back I expect to be volunteering again next year - much better prepared than I was this year. As to speakers - because I was in one venue I saw people I wou;dn't normally have seen. A talk about non-violent protest in Palestine; working in prisons and with ex-prisoners using drama; Finding God in ordinary every day life (whilst trying to squeeze lots of latecomers in and encouraging the speaker to speak to the back of the room not the microphone - she does a lot of radio!)and the film I had such trouble showing. Elsewhere Brain McLaren was interesting andI await other talks in MP3 format that will arrive through the post. Monday night was rounded off in the beer tent with Cider & Carols - a packed tent celebrating Christmas - with some wonderful descants (poor Hannah complaining that her cough meant she couldn't join in and Hallfold really have to learn the descants because O Come and Hark the Herald aren't right without them) A rainy August - a good time for Christmas Carols!
So next tasks:-
See it's not all lazy days and computer games you know.
- review "Letting God be God" by David Cornick;
- reflect on the nature of Community - one of the themes that is emerging from my festivaling
- get along to a number of worship setting where people are trying something different
- crack on with reading Alistair McGrath, "Christianity's Dangerous Idea"
- see if City have aby more shocks in store for us.