Greenbelt blog: day 2
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Date: August, 2006


Philip Purser-Hallard on the animals at Greenbelt, the comedy and the Communion service

The first thing I did after writing yesterday’s blog was to visit the Miller’s Ark Petting Zoo – provided primarily for children (apparently) but open to grownups from 2pm to 6pm each afternoon.

Featuring week-old ducklings, guinea pigs and rabbits, as well as larger animals like goats and pigs, it’s a soothing oasis of fur and fluff amidst the frenetic activity of the festival.

I then tried to track down the various visual arts exhibitions advertised in the Greenbelt programme – more of a challenge than I expected, in the case of Leah Gordon’s fascinating Hierophany.

Gordon’s piece is a pillar in which neon-lit black-and-white photos are mounted, representing what her interviewees identified as ‘visible manifestations of the divine’: an equation, a line of white powder, a Romanesco broccoli...


Unfortunately Hierophany’s been moved from the location given in the festival programme, and is now located in a talks venue, Hall of Fame, where seminar attendees are unlikely to recognise it as an art installation, and art lovers can only view it between talks sessions. Despite the unfortunate location, it’s well worth taking a look at if you can.

I can also recommend the meditations in various media on the Beatitudes, on display in The Tank, the festival’s very much expanded cybercafé, sponsored by

And I’m keen not to miss the ‘City of Clay’, a participative artwork along the lines of the Multitude and Menagerie of previous years, where Greenbelters are invited to contribute clay buildings (hollow ones, to allow for internal lighting) to a miniature city-in-a-tent.

Last night I managed, by dint of dashing from one venue to another, to catch (most of) two contrastingly hilarious comedy performances.

The first was a rare personal appearance by Christian ministry guru Rev Gerald Ambulance (aka Steve Tomkins), who taught us the secret of writing God-given worship songs as horrifying (to Satan, obviously) as his own ‘Jesus is My Boyfriend’ and ‘Tell Me the Good Old Story (Of Who’s Not Getting to Glory).

Praise the Lord, brothers (and sisters, these days).


The second was US comedian Peterson Toscano, who shared with us scenes from his experiences with the ‘ex-gay’ movement in Talkin’ Trash in the Homo No Mo’ Halfway House.

I was profoundly impressed by Toscano’s charity and humanity towards the people who attempted to ‘reform’ him – and also by his skill at mimicry. His Home Counties Anglican vicar was, for a New Yorker of Italian-American extraction, quite uncanny.

Then to a late-night compline and to bed, from which I failed – as I do every year – to emerge in time to attend the Quaker worship before the grand Sunday morning Greenbelt communion service.

Fortunately the service itself – celebrated simultaneously in two venues this year, thanks to the theological advances of modern media technology and a dirty great plasma screen – was as inspiring as ever.

The service was more coherent than last year’s, with a strong anti-slavery theme and some good music (although I missed the usual stadium-rock treatment of a well-known traditional hymn).


My main reservation is one which applies generally to Greenbelt communions – that the service’s great strength, the presence of thousands of denominationally and doctrinally diverse Christians, is also its biggest weakness.

The necessity not to alienate, offend or (in the case of the children present) bore the pants off the congregants, can result in a bitty, somewhat bland ‘family service’ rather than something expressive of the challenging theologies I associate with Greenbelt.

None of which is to denigrate Greenbelt’s remarkable achievement in getting said thousands of Christians to sit down and share bread and wine together. That’s something worth celebrating without any reservations whatsoever.

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