Some responses from the curators of the Sunday Service
From Rachel Stringer, Head of Content
Greenbelt’s Sunday Service (usually communion except in years of Swine Flu!) is the one point of the Festival when we take time to come together as the community of Greenbelt to pause, reflect, celebrate, love, and share in the divine with each other. Over 10,000 people spend the hour together in an act of Christian worship…that’s some 10,000 people of different ages, creeds, denominations, experiences, and backgrounds. And some 10,000 people with different expectations of what that hour spent together should look like. Some people want a traditional Anglican service, others look to Greenbelt to offer something different to their usual Sunday service (be it Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist or any other denomination). Some want a sense of the familiar, whilst others want something completely radical to anything they’ve experienced before. And some people don’t even want a service, preferring to spend the hour with a cup of coffee, the Sunday papers and communing with the Spirit in their own individual way.
With that in mind curating the Festival’s Sunday Service has to be one of the hardest jobs to ‘get right’ all weekend, and it is impossible to please all of the (10,000+) people all of the time. We’ve had lots of emails in expressing gratitude for a service this year that was creative, inspiring, thought provoking, and eye opening. As well as emails asking for more information and even some requests for spare olive seeds to be used in other similar services around the country. But we’re also aware that for some of you it wasn’t everything that you’d hoped for.
And perhaps because we’ve had the blog open this year for the first time after the festival, this (cyber)space has been somewhere a few people have turned to, to voice their thoughts and feedback. So it is here that the team who went to Palestine last year and who kindly wrote and curated the service for us wanted to address those points raised.
Whatever your thoughts on the service, whether you enjoyed some, all, or none of it, I would like to thank everyone who was involved in making it happen. Those who donated their time, passion, creativity, art, love and labour to make a moment at the festival where everyone was invited to stand in the Long Now together.
Some responses from the curators to the Sunday Service blog comments
What about the music?
While we’ve had really good feedback about the Bethlehem lullaby which Reem Kelani led and the chorus, God of Peace and Justice, led by Agents of Future within the prayers, we’re aware that – while some people loved the hymn singing – rather more of you have been vociferous in your dislike.
As curators, we deliberately chose well-known hymn tunes with modern words because one of the things we know works from experience in a big service like Greenbelt’s – where there’s a degree of experimentalism because we are an arts festival – is familiar melodies. So we wanted music that people would feel familiar with, engaged by and drawn together in – and married to lyrics reflecting the ideas behind the service.
The great thing about an arts festival is that all kinds of artists are involved and the great thing about art is you can make things up – so when we heard about US based Agents of Future being at the Festival we called them up to see if they’d be willing to lead the hymn-singing. They were up for it and we started swapping emails and phone conversations and video clips of their rehearsals. They were taking a chance with us and we were taking a chance with them… and what is stepping out in faith if it’s not taking a chance or two?
Throughout our dealings with Agents we were struck by their humility, flexibility, lack of ego and genuine sense of honour at being involved. As it turned out, for some people, this element of the service didn’t work. While Agents lead with the robustness and passion we’d hoped for, the lack of a strong melody for the hymns made the arrangements a little too complex to sometimes follow.
But art and faith is about taking risks. Sometimes we have to find ways to offer up our worship even when the ‘style’ doesn’t totally float our boat, or the delivery falters. We like to think that our communal stumbling over timing might have raised a little smile on the face of The Almighty.
What about the Politics?
The Guide and the service booklet made it very clear that the Service would have a ‘perspective’. That it would be rooted in the stories of the people who live in the Holy Land, and in particular the Palestinian people, whilst being told by both Palestinians and Israelis. Every church service you ever go to has a perspective and every one is political. It’s just that this isn’t usually spelled out. But, Sunday-by-Sunday, we all assent to various politics in our worship in terms of what is said and sung – and who takes part and who does not.
We developed the Service around a motif, an idea, a symbol that was both Biblical and universal. The olive seed, the olive branch and the olive tree were our ‘hooks’ on which we hung the Service. As a Christian act of worship, we rooted it in the Bible and around one of its central images. The olive tree is one of the most striking icons that burns itself onto your consciousness when you visit Israel and Palestine, so it was a way of telling the story of the place and the people, too.
Why no communion?
In organising such a large public event, we needed to do the right thing; both taking into consideration issues of public health and being mindful about how people’s perceptions might also impact proceedings. The group of us putting the Service together took into account the guidance being issued by church and government bodies around best practice in the circumstances. We looked at marrying the practicalities of people’s anxieties around flu with the choreography of the Eucharistic liturgy and in the end made the call that dropping it from the service was best – while providing an opportunity shortly afterwards in a separate venue for those who still wanted to receive communion to do so.
Why no translation of readings in Hebrew and Arabic?
We wanted people to hear the voices of the region. Sometimes following stuff and reading it while it’s read means that you switch off from the reader. We wanted people to keep their heads up and keep their ears open to hear. We gave the Bible references with a succinct summary of the stories. Our aim was, as one theologian has put it, to ‘make the word strange’ – to slightly disarm people so that they perceived things more clearly, as if for the first time.
Why no sermon?
We chose to hear multiple voices rather than one. The Service set out to tell the stories of people from the Holy Land. Both Palestinian and Israeli.