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Festival, Cheltenham, England
Festival at Cheltenham
Racecourse, Cheltenham, England.
Cheltenham Racecourse is located on the outskirts of Cheltenham,
near the scenic hilly region known as the Cotswolds, and is
perhaps one of the most famous racecourses in the UK alongside
Ascot, Epsom and Aintree. It is situated in a natural amphitheatre
just below the escarpment of the Cotswold hills. In addition
to the racetrack and grandstand, Cheltenham features several
auditoria and function rooms, making it a popular venue for
concerts, meetings and exhibitions as well as racing. The service
I attended was an open air communion service held in a field
with the only "building" being the main stage of the festival.
That said, the field was well appointed as fields go. From the
field there were views across the racecourse towards the Cotswold
hills in one direction and the Malvern hills in another direction.
So the view was very pretty. The people attending the service
were invited to enter "the temple" (see below) through several
"gates" (some garden trellises with ribbons around them) representing
the north, south, east and west (a reference to Luke 13:29).
The Greenbelt Festival, an annual event stretching over several
days, is probably the largest Christian music festival in the
world. The first Greenbelt was held in 1974 on a pig farm and
was called by The Sun newspaper "the nice people's
pop festival." Although Greenbelt's appeal lay at first
in its unashamed celebration of the arts, particularly rock
music, over time the heart and mind of Greenbelt broadened and
strengthened to include a biblical vision of global justice
engaging with political powers. Attendance reached its peak
around 1990 but gradually declined during the ensuing decade.
Since moving to Cheltenham, however, Greenbelt has seen attendance
more than quadruple. The festival regularly attracts the biggest
names in Christian music as well as many well-known Christian
speakers, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is currently
the Festival's patron. Greenbelt today sees the church as an
infectious global conspiracy, working for God's peace, healing
and friendship in previously unimagined ways.
Cheltenham is a large spa town and borough in Gloucestershire,
England. Its popularity began with the discovery of mineral
springs there in 1716. The town has an image of wealth and respectability
and is noted for its fine examples of Regency architecture.
Wealth and respectability, however, did not necessarily spring
to the minds of us festival goers, surrounded as we were by
the aromas emanating from hot dog and donut stands mingling
with stable-related smells. Anything unusually interesting about
the immediate neighbourhood, did you ask? Other than that, no.
The Revd Lusmarina Campos Garcia, a native of Brazil and pastor
of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church of Geneva, and the Revd Terry MacArthur,
a native of the United States and the liturgist and choir director
of the same church. Pastor Lusmarina wore a white cassock and
colourful stole. The Revd Terry, on the other hand, was brightly
attired in orange shirt and white trousers with white braces
(suspenders). Music was provided by a group called Aradhna,
which has worked to create an authentic sound for Indian Christ-centered
worship that had previously relied on Western hymns.
The date & time:
Sunday, 24 August 2008, 3.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Greenbelt Communion 2008 – Rising Sun.
How full was the building?
It is difficult to give a figure but I imagine there must have
been somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people present. But
there was room for more – it was a big field!
Did anyone welcome you
No. We drifted in with the other thousands through the aforementioned
ribboned trellises. We were given our service sheet by a young
man who was a member of the L'Arche community, an international
network of faith-based group homes centered around people with
learning disabilities. He was very cheerful but did not welcome
us as such.
Was your pew comfortable?
We brought our own pew in the form of a folding camping chair. It was comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
Manic. People were chatting and eating their picnic lunches.
The Revd Terry was running through the various songs that would
be sung during the communion.
What were the exact opening words of the
To be honest I don't know. I too was chatting to people around
me and so wasn't really paying attention. But according to the
printed order of service, the opening words were probably: "We
welcome the four processions coming to the temple from the north,
west, south and east."
What books did the congregation use during the
Everyone was given an order of service with the prayers, hymns
and songs printed on it.
What musical instruments were played?
Aradhna played a selection of Indian instruments including sitar,
sarod (a string instrument somewhat resembling a lute but with
drone and sympathetic as well as melodic strings), and Hindustani
violin (tuned differently from the Western violin and played
without vibrato). There were also some other musicians playing
a digital electronic keyboard and guitars.
Did anything distract you?
Maybe it's easier to say what wasn't a distraction. But as I
know you really want me to say what distracted me, here goes.
The weather. It was cold and wet. The Revd Terry's colourful
taste in haberdashery. Pastor Lusmarina's opening remarks (read
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was lively and the crowd (congregation would be the wrong
word) were there to have a good time. It felt exactly like it
was a crowd at a music festival joined together to see an act
on the main stage. Pastor Lusmarina wrote the liturgy used.
There were a number of hymns all reflecting (sorry) the rising
sun theme. We had "From the rising of the sun" and
"Summer suns are glowing" (with much ironic laughter
given the rain). We also managed several Asian hymns in Japanese,
Hindi and Thai. We even held forth with two verses of "Hark
the herald angels sing." Finally we sang the Beatles' "Here
comes the sun" as best we could, again amid spasms of ironic
laughter). We were given "goodie bags" containing
the communion elements to share among 20 people or so. The bags
also contained coloured ribbons to wave, throw in the air, and
tie around your neighbour’s wrists as directed by the
Revd Terry. I didn’t get a ribbon and so felt a bit at
a loose end during these bits.
Exactly how long was the
I again have to be honest. During the sermon it began to rain
heavily, and like everyone else I got distracted by putting
on my coat, putting up my umbrella, etc. So I didn't keep an
eye on the time. But it was no more than 10 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 Pastor Lusmarina began by saying she wished she were
on the beach at Copacabana in her bikini! An odd statement for
her to make, as I wouldn't exactly call her a "looker".
But I suppose that was one way of grabbing the attention of
the crowd, although personally I drifted off into a reverie
of Brazilian beach volleyball players! Her English appeared
fluent but it was heavily accented and I found it a bit difficult
to follow. She was a pretty good preacher in terms of how she
delivered the sermon. But as you will see below, I just had
trouble agreeing with her theology.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The theme of the festival and the service was Rising Sun. She
explained how the rising sun was used in the Bible as a metaphor
for Jesus, as in the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:1-3.) She
said that the sun needed to shine once more, particularly on
countries of the developing world. But to my ears it sounded
as if we were worshipping the sun, not the Sun of Righteousness.
I found myself tuning out because of the many distractions but
also because the message seemed to be unchristian.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
That's easy – the communion. I received bread and wine from
two 11 year olds. One of them plonked the bread into my hand
with a cheery "There you go," but the other kept a tight grip
on the cup of wine, as if he was hoping to drink the remaining
wine himself! But somehow I was really touched by the experience.
There was a real sense of mystery.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There are a few things that spring to mind. The Revd Terry may
be a choir director back in Geneva, but he was terribly behind
the beat for most of the songs. And his outfit! We concluded
he is probably a big fan of musicals. The sermon. Singing "Hark
the herald angels sing" in August. The fact that where we worshipped
was referred to as a temple. I could go on. But the real low
point was singing the Beatles' "Here comes the sun" as if it
were a hymn, with it pouring down with rain all the while.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People drifted off to the next event, their tents, or (in our
case) to the coffee and donut kiosk.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
The fair trade caffe Americano and fresh donuts I purchased
were excellent – though they cost almost £10 for
two coffees and two donuts.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 This was my first time at Greenbelt and I thought the
experience in general was great. I will come back. But this
particular service was dire. It was wishy washy liberalism at
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Despite everything I've said, the communion was very special.
So strangely I will say yes.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I think it will be the Revd Terry in his orange shirt and white
trousers camping it up singing "Here comes the sun." I just
wished he'd sung an encore of "The sun'll come out tomorrow"
– I could tell he was wanting to!
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