Greenbelt Festival Communion Service 2017
“Our whole nature, extending from the first to the last, is, so to speak,
one image of Him Who is.”
Gregory of Nyssa*, On the Making of Man XV : 18
Christians say, sometimes lightly, that we are “made in the image of God.” What do we mean by that?
Sometimes we speak as if God’s qualities are amongst the colours in the palette from which we are painted. Gregory of Nyssa teaches us to think quite differently. The image of God is not a characteristic, like our height or our blood group. Instead, the whole of each person expresses the whole image of God. I am the picture: God is all the colours. God is all the ingredients in the recipe that is me.
So if I am tall or short, male, female, trans (or if I prefer not to disclose) – my height and gender speak of God. I may be a body that people deem to be perfect; or I may be profoundly disabled by the standards and practices of my culture. Either way, my body fully reflects the body of God.
Greenbelt works hard to be an inclusive festival; a community where everyone counts. We’re proud to have achieved the Gold Level on the Charter of Best Practice by Attitude is Everything for our commitment to improving access for deaf and disabled festival-goers at Greenbelt. The only other multi-arts festival with that level is Glastonbury! Nothing is perfect, but we try to make sure that as far as possible nobody is prevented from taking a full part in the festival.
That’s partly a matter of justice. But it’s also so that when we come together, we can celebrate the likeness of God that we find in each other, and make a livable community together.
“The image is not in part of our nature, nor is the grace in any one of the things found in that nature, but this power extends equally to all the race.” Gregory of Nyssa : On the Making of Man XV : 17
Each of us gathered at Greenbelt reflects the whole image and character of God. If we allow anyone to be excluded, either by accident or thoughtlessness or prejudice, we will see God less clearly. The more we recognise our common humanity, the sharper our image of God will be.
With the help of festival partners Livability we will try to reflect that in this year’s communion service. Whether you meet in a Victorian church building or a field in Northamptonshire, putting this into practice is very challenging. Curating this year’s communion service has stretched all of us. We’ve been conscious all along that every idea, every word that seeks to include one person, risks excluding someone else. We’ve frequently run into our own limitations, as well as the limitations of the event.
And then we read the amazing story of the Feeding of the Many Thousands. It’s a story so good it’s told six times in four gospels! And we’ve put it at the centre of this year’s Festival communion. God simply does not recognise our categories of leaders and followers, haves and have-nots, children and adults, the able-bodied and the disabled. God invites us all to join the feast, asking “what will you bring?” And Christ the Multiplier takes what we bring and makes it more than enough.
So together we’ll laugh and sing and worship and celebrate the fact that all you really need to feed 5,000 people is a small packed lunch and a great God.
*Gregory of Nyssa was a theologian and bishop in the 4th Century AD in what is now Southern Turkey. He is not to be confused with Gregory of Nisa who works on the checkout of a local convenience store.