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Greenbelt '22

Another Greenbelt has come to an end and the recurring nightmare about a toilet, a stick and gas mask is gradually fading in the memory. Apparently the company that was supposed to provide the sanitation went bust over the summer - who would’ve thought that sewage doesn’t pay! Still, we survived and more, a little more pungent than usual perhaps.

It was good to update the inventory on the latest camping equipment available. Greenbelters are definitely early adopters when it comes to gadgets that make camping more comfortable! Maybe it’s an age thing, but I’ve already ordered the mini folding chair with attached cool bag that so many of the crowd were showing off this year. I have never been able to sit on the ground comfortably, even as a small child, and standing is beginning to take its toll. I have to admit that some of my programme choices were solely based on the availability of adequate seating!

Something always happens at Greenbelt, the Spirit is always at work in a particular way. I remember that, by the end of my first Greenbelt, I had come to the conclusion that I had completely wasted my life and ministry was a busted flush! Each year it has felt both intense and gentle, dealing with serious stuff but in a way that is more intriguing than overwhelming. This year was different in that I went expecting something significant.

Having been through burnout and recovery, and a recent bout of Covid, I was feeling a bit bruised by what 2022 had thrown at me so far. Despite that, or maybe because of it, I needed something reassuring and positive. As this year has progressed, I have become more aware of going through a period of transition, letting go of some difficult stuff in order to make room for a more positive future. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, there is still a lot of reflection to do, but I reckon the message of #GB22 for me was: ‘Keep going!’

This was my first Greenbelt with a recognised disability and it was interesting to see if I could access what I needed. Due to medication, I have had to forego two substances I had previously relied on: caffeine and alcohol. For the latter, the interaction with ADHD meds means that, should I drink, I would experience stonking hangovers but no merriment! My neurodiverse brain treats caffeine, a stimulant, in roughly the opposite way to a neurotypical one. So rather than waking me up, it puts me to sleep!

Strangely, it was much easier to get a non-alcoholic beer than a decaff coffee it turned out, and decaff coke was like gold dust! Thanks to the Methodist Church, it was even possible to get Lucky Saint on tap, whilst the zero offerings at the Jesus Arms were a little more meagre. Since I am the only teetotaller in our household, I am hoping that Greenbelt ‘23 will put alcoholic and non-alcoholic geographically closer together to allow drinkers and non-drinkers to socialise together!

I also brought a t-shirt with me from the new charity, ADHD UK [URL], which simply read “Raising Awareness about ADHD”. When I wore it on Saturday, I ended up in about half a dozen conversations with strangers who wanted to talk about neurodiversity, their own or a relative’s. It was humbling to share their stories and made me wonder whether there was a place for more intentional neurodiversity-focussed chaplaincy.

Neurodiversity was also a key element in what, for me, was a particular highlight of the festival. At 5pm on the final day, after we had packed most things up and people were already on the road home, Mark and I spent an hour in the company of the utterly bizarre and magical comedian, Terry Alderton [URL]. The show could be summed up in one of his throwaway lines: ‘I don’t think 20mg is enough!’ Terry’s own struggles with an education system that couldn’t cope with undiagnosed dyslexia are a key part of the show, no, the experience of Terry Alderton. I left on a high!

Every year we set off for Greenbelt hoping to catch up with lots of old friends, and each year, we pretty much fail. This year wasn’t very different, except that I managed to meet up with some friends I hadn’t seen for nearly twenty years! Apologies to all those friends who I saw across a crowded field and failed to track down for the rest of the festival. Maybe next year ….

Greenbelt left me, once again, with much to ponder. I spent most of the weekend talking about politics or comedy, which I didn’t expect, and again I am wondering how both of these fields will feature in my future. I listened to Bp William Willimon talk about his latest book on preaching and how stand-up comedy and preaching had much in common and it really stuck with me. So much so that I am going to try to find an open mic night in the next few months to see if I can make a room of strangers laugh! As for politics, Greenbelt left me feeling empowered to keep speaking out and challenging the lazy narratives of the left.

Now, it’s back to eBay to look for that slightly bigger tent and a stick long enough to clear toilet blockages!

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