The Church at the Glastonbury Festival

First published 2nd June 2017

Lee Barnes, Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity and St Stephens in Bristol, is a member of the Organising Committee at the Glastonbury Festival. Here he reflects on the church at the annual event:

I love festival spirituality and searching for a place within the matrix of grace where the freedom of human flourishing can be witnessed and experienced. For me, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts offers one such place, by being part of the Sanctuary Marquee team in serving and being with the festival community.

Sometimes people describe what the Sanctuary Marquee does as pioneering. I am not sure that is a helpful way of looking at it because it is far more natural and organic than that. Sometimes the language of pioneer is unhelpful because it can, at its worse, restrict an understanding of what it means to go to places where others don't, without recognising that there is probably already someone there. We are not pioneers, I suggest, in what we do at the festival we are servants of Jesus in loving others. Open hands, open hearts.

Surely, many say, Glastonbury Festival is an unreal-hedonistic-naively-idealistic-pretense with little value to what is happening in the world?

I could not disagree more. Sure, there are better festivals. Sure, we are walled in. Sure, the festival is not what it was. Sure, it is expensive and not accessible to all. Sure, sometimes you witness the antithesis of human flourishing. Sure, it is not everyones idea of fun. And yet in the seriousness and weightiness of dynamic tensions that inhabit our life-spheres there is, I suggest, a need for people to discover something new that may build hope or for them to be discovered and become more hopeful (to be clothed or de-clothed anew) in the world today.

The church at the Glastonbury Festival is there providing sanctuary from the colourful chaos, water to dehydrated bodies, a place to breathe, to reenergize, to sleep, to rest, to re-create, to be accepted, to hear peoples story and to be loved are these not some of the characteristics of a community of Jesus followers?

But all relationships are two-way. In serving the festival we are also served and discover once again that God is the God of all people and not just some incredibly wonderful people in a marquee. We are there, with the whole community, celebrating and sharing in myriad reflected stages of life; there can be births, weddings and, sadly, deaths; there is the weather (all farmers together); there is creativity through music, art, theatre, comedy, conversations and so on. We all dance under the same stars and Jesus dances too. The Spirit has been poured out on all flesh and in the fleshiness of the festival-community we all learn (if we want to) that God can be found in all people.

On the Saturday morning of the festival, with our friends at The Coracle (a Celtic sacred space), we break bread and share wine at the Stone Circle (also known as The Kings Field) and offer prayers of blessing over the festival community. In that moment we discover that even if life walls-us-in and tries to contain us, even if we sometimes cross the line into risk, even if we discover a world for a few days detached from reality, we can embrace the playfulness given as a gift from our Creator and the church, I suggest,needs to embrace this often!

I re-discover each year at Glastonbury Festival truths so obvious to us all; our God is also their God, our sanctuary in this world is their sanctuary, our love is their love whoever they are.

Maybe, just maybe, in a world full of really important and serious stuff we each need a moment to laugh, dance, wear a pink tutu and remind ourselves, who are not of this world, that all is well. Just for a moment.

More information

If you are coming to the Festival, you can find out more about the spiritual support available here.

If you want to follow the team at the Festival, head over to the Facebook page. 

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