Thursday, August 31, 2006


So prompted by Scott I thought I should share my experiences at Greenbelt (I got back on Tuesday and went to see my ministerial mentor yesterday [which went well] so this is the first chance I've had to blog).

One other Unitarian was there who I met up with sporadically but I failed to get a big group to come with me, so I went down with a friend and made some friends there as well. Here's some brief notes:


Jim Wallace was good, but nothing really new said. Ibrahim Hewitt, a Muslim convert, was interesting enough (I missed the other talk on Muslims in the media). It was interesting to hear Norman Kember interviewed, but I had already heard most of it in a radio interview a few months ago.

The outstanding talks I heard were from Clive Stafford-Smith and Sarah Jones. Both were very funny in dealing with serious issues.

Clive Stafford-Smith is a lawyer who's represented a lot of people on death row in the US and is currently representing people in Guantanamo Bay. He went off on a tangent at one point talking about the fact that until a couple of years ago oral sex was illegal in 20 US states. In fact shagging a dead horse in the town square (bestiality, necrophilia, public indecency combined) got a lesser pentalty than having oral sex with your wife in your bed. He said he was very proud of getting rid of those laws. Then he talked about Guantanamo. It's shocking really how a democratic nation can deny due process of law and employ torture to prisoners. Have we really got used to that idea? What are we fighting for if we do this? It's not democracy, because this stuff is a denial of the idea of democracy. At the end of the the Second World War Churchill wanted to line up the Nazis and shoot them. But it was the Americans who insisted on fair trials, and so that's what happened. How can America deny its founding principles so much today? Clive said that the idea that we're in a new situation today so that we need to change human rights is bollocks. Guy Fawkes was a religious suicide bomber in 1605. It's in times of trouble that we need to stick to our principles more.

Sarah Jones was very good too. She talked about gender in general and the process that led her to change her sex to female from male. She then talked about going into ordination in the Church of England, and when the tabloids found out that she was transgender. She was very funny at times but she did say that this was difficult for her to talk about, even though she made light of it a lot. Really inspiring stuff.

I was a bit disappointed with John Bell of the Iona Community. He was supposed to be talking about same sex civil partnerships. But he just talked about homosexuality-in-general. The same old interpreting-scripture-is-not-that-straightforward etc etc etc, but-let's-not-schism-over-it etc etc etc. Maybe other people are in a different place, and this is something new to them. But for me this is so old and so boring. As a Unitarian, scripture for me is a foundation rather than an authority, and I got no problem with disagreeing with the Bible. I'm not interested in this old debate. For me the issue is settled. Now I'm interested in how to challenge the residual homophobia in my community and how to support a queer political justice agenda.

My friend, who's a Quaker, agreed with me about this. It's very different for those of us who are not in the mainline denominations, but in communities to the left. John Bell (who is Church of Scotland, by the way) typified the moderate middle that I'm very bored of now. It frustrates me that there is not more of a religious left in the UK. What I want are conferences and events that are similar to Greenbelt but have more of a dynamic of the religious left. I wouldn't want things to become so left/right, black/white, blue/red that they've become in the States but a bit more of a resurgence of the religious left that's happening in the States needs to happen here too I think.

One Panel I went to in the emerging church area was about 'Mission and emerging spiritualities.' Steve Hollinghurst (who blogs here) trains churches to run stalls at 'Mind, Body, Spirit' fairs, trying to reach out to those who are interested in 'spirituality.' It was interesting to hear him speculate that God may be moving beyond the realms of the Christian church in the New Age community, bringing about a revival outside of the church. Whereas he wanted to bring this spiritual searching into the Christian fold, I myself believe such movements are telling us much more about the divine. He wanted to tell people that what they are experiencing is God, whereas I am open to the possibility that what Christians are experiencing is Goddess.

On a similar topic he also spoke about the Da Vinci Code, but it was all stuff I'd heard before.


I gave up seeing Daniel Beddingfield to see Peterson Toscana a performance artist who performed extracts from his one man show 'Talkin' Trash in the Homo No Mo Halfway House' about his experiences in ex-gay ministry. It was brilliant and very funny.


Taize prayer was good, the main communion was underwhelming. The most moving worship by far was led by L'Arche. L'Arche communities are dotted all over the place and are made up of people with and without learning difficulties living in community. Feetwashing with L'Arche and getting a flavour of their community was amazing and very emotional. It kind of made me think that all my thinking and writing and theology is just bollocks. I was seeing people living their faith day to day in community, with all those challenges of community, and it's so much more real and faith-ful than my life. Just living a life in community with simplicity and service is so much more Christ-like than all the thinking and talking about theology.


The only music I really saw was Candi Staton who was pretty good.


I'm convinced God is pushing me to join a political party. That's clearer now. I met some nice people, ate a lot of fast food, only took one shower.

My other observation about Greenbelt is that it was very white. It didn't reflect the racial diversity of British Christianity. It was all pretty white, middle class and pretty southern English.

I spent a lot of time explaining to people what Unitarianism is. Which is cool. How lucky I am to get to talk about religion and explain something of what the divine is to me and my life and my community.


Anonymous Andrew said...

I'm also a Unitarian who has been to Greenbelt, though I didn't make it this year. On my last visit, maybe 3 or 4 years ago, I bumped into a Unitarian from Oxford, so you are not alone.

4:41 pm  

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