Greenbelt 2023 – Artistry, Activism and Us!

Published 4th September 2023 by Aike Kennett-Brown

Over the August bank holiday weekend, the BRF Ministries Messy Church team headed off to ‘Greenbelt’. Just to clarify, we had not entered a martial arts grading competition, although apparently a ‘green belt’ in Karate represents growth awarded to intermediate students, which probably describes our endeavours! Instead, we were headed to the green belt of land around Kettering, where you find Boughton House, the grounds of which are host to Greenbelt Festival.  Celebrating its 50th anniversary, it’s an intergenerational space where ‘artistry meets activism, the secular meets the spiritual, politics meets positivity’ and then there was us!

Joining in with the climate justice and outdoor worship agenda, we were there to spread the word about Messy Church Goes Wild and demonstrate two very different types of Messy Adventures: an ‘adventure in one spot’ and an adventure ‘on the move’.

Our first challenge was that we’d been given a night-time slot of 9.30pm on the Saturday night, for our ‘adventure in one spot’. However, worries that no-one would find us on the dark edge of the festival were set aside when Jonathan, one of our Messy young leaders, piped up a tune on his melodeon, drawing in a group of around 70 participants of all ages.
Our second challenge was that this was a completely outdoor session, no electric lights, no canopy and with a showery weather forecast. Prayers were answered and a stillness descended over the site. As clouds started to part, we wondered together about Psalm 8, and considered the heavens, the moon and stars.

Aike writes, ‘I particularly enjoyed the moment when I invited people to look up at the stars, and as if on cue, a shooting star flashed across the sky.’

Janes writes, ‘it was a lovely surprise when a member of my local church, Tom Hartman, joined the session. Tom had contributed to the Messy Adventures project as the consultant scientist on ‘Wild and wiggly!. He always has something interesting to share and he told us about how Buzz Aldrin had celebrated communion as he stepped on the moon in 1969. Back at Aldrin’s home church, they celebrate Lunar Communion Sunday every July and recite Psalm 8 which he had quoted on his return to earth.

Sally writes, ‘it was good to watch a group enthusiastically work out how the days, seasons and years are related to planetary motion and then explore together how light reflects differently depending on the surface, and then equally enthusiastically discuss how we can reflect God’s light out into the world. It was a great example of how science and faith can be complementary. The Jaffa cakes helped too!

Encouraged by our night adventure, the following day, the intrepid trio donned their purple Messy Church hoodies and Aike and Jane were spotted at ‘Beer and Hymns’ outside the ‘Jesus Arms’, by some folk eager to hear about how to start a Messy Church. We were a walking Messy Church advert, and we really appreciated bumping into and chatting with Messy Church practitioners and supporters from around the country.

After some fleeting rain showers, the weather stayed dry for our afternoon ‘On the Move’ session.  Using suggestions from Messy Adventures session 12: Wild Life, we ambled around the ‘Capability Brown’ landscape of Boughton House, with a group of around 30 people. Pausing by trees, a lake and a meadow, we reflected on the different seasons in nature and the different seasons in our lives, what nature needs to flourish and grow, and what we might need to spiritually flourish and grow.

Jane writes, ‘As we walked along the mown path through the meadow which had been allowed to grow wild, I wasn’t sure we were going to see very much wild life, but we were patient with our magnifying glasses and were duly rewarded. We watched wasps buzz in and out of a nest concealed in the thick grass and I spotted a white spider that was camouflaged against lighter grasses. The younger members of our party excitedly bought us ladybirds, the fluff from a dandelion and lime tree seed pods, as well as feathers, as we wondered if birds had nested here or whether they’d been blown from the cygnets on the nearby lake. The prayer time that followed led to lament for the lost wildlife that had once been in this place.

Aike writes, ‘it was a truly intergenerational walk, including a family with 3 generations present, and some interesting conversations as we walked, on the topic of baptism. When I asked about ways that we could look after our planet better, the children had brilliant ideas and we also learnt that the Woodland Trust are giving away hundreds of thousands of trees to schools and communities, to help the UK reach its 2050 carbon net-zero target.

Now that we have returned from the festival, caught up on our sleep and give continued thanks for flushable toilets, we hope our Messy Adventures inspired those who came to have the confidence to have a go around their home location. It could be as simple as a family walk, taking a magnifying glass (or using an app on your phone) to pause and spot creepy crawlies, and take a moment to wonder at God’s amazing creation. We can all work towards our green belts!

Aike, Jane and Sally
BRF Ministries Messy Church Team

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