|388: Greenbelt Festival, Cheltenham, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Twelve Basketcases.
The church: Greenbelt Festival, Cheltenham, England.
The building: It was held in the open air at Cheltenham Racecourse.
The cast: Tony Compolo, preacher; various leaders and signers; Lucy Winkett, celebrant.
What was the name of the service?
Greenbelt 2001 Communion Service: "You give them something to eat".
How full was the building?
There were at least 5,000 people, and the arena was packed to bulging.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Friends gathered together, making other friends with the groups next to them in our case, the Franciscans.
Was your pew comfortable?
No, because there weren't any. A few stone steps around the edge of the arena for the lucky few, camping stools for wise virgins who were prepared and brought them with them, a viewing platform for the disabled, and damp grass and gradually dampening backsides for the rest of us.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mixed chatter, expectation, trying to find a patch of grass or a step to sit on.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitars, drums, brass, and kids shouting "Six six six!".
Did anything distract you?
Gradually dampening backside and lack of blood-flow to the lower legs after sitting for any period of time. Trying to see the invisible singing child during the preparation for communion. And someone's bread had gone mouldy, requiring rather careful breaking on being passed around.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Experimental service. Most worship material came from the Wild Goose Worship Group and the Late Late Service. Worship was exuberant and enthusiastic, but there was no hint of emotional manipulation or cheesy twee keyboard sounds.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Very roughly, half an hour.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Tony Campolo lost some content points for preaching to the converted, but had an excellent and engaging delivery style with relevant personal anecdotes, and enough Bible references to keep the fundamentalists happy.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Shutting oneself away for Jesus to possess us so that we can be the people who can go out and make the world the place it should be the Kingdom of God, which will ultimately be a party!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Chocolate raining down from the heavens. Everyone sharing the food they had brought with total strangers. And being at a service with thousands of people all committed to the idea that justice for the world's poor is at the very heart of the faith and not a minor optional extra.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
In a service of this size everyone will find something hellish. But no single thing was considered to have the whiff of sulphur by our whole group. All whiffs of sulphur were probably from our own prejudices rather than the service itself.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Lost? In a crowd of friends this big?
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We provided our own wine and bottle-conditioned real ale while typing up this report in a camper van.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 Although it's not really possible as it only happens once a year and this is a festival, not a church. A service like this at a real-life church would probably also get a 10, but doing something this good every week would be impossibly demanding.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The typo in the service sheet to end all typos "One day soon there'll be fields for the poo" which had nothing to do with alternatives to the portaloos. And singing "Amazing Grace" to an African drum rhythm.