Greenbelt 2011 #gb11 reflections – Friday – Angels of the North, Billy Bragg, iMass

So I just got back from the wonderful Christian Arts Festival, Greenbelt. I thought I would write a little overview/review of my experiences. If you were there, do comment below this post! Thanks.

Angels of the North

My friend Carla Moss organised this fabulous art exhibition of works by artists based in the North of England. We went along to the opening. Instead of glasses of wine we were greeted by people offering small cups of wine – the kind used for communion in Baptist churches and bread or wafers. It put a whole new spin on the idea of communion. People were happily accepting the tiny wine glasses and a chunk of bread as they entered the exhibition space- I wondered how non-church people might have perceived it.
The piece I spent the most time looking at was by Rebecca Strain – images of bible texts that she had made by putting the words literally in her mouth and then working through a photography process which left the part of the bible that was in her mouth visible and the rest of the paper black. It was fascinating to hear about this from the artist herself – we had an interesting conversation about how we comprehend information. It put me in mind of two bible verses:

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! – Psalm 119:103

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6: 6

Also in the exhibition was a piece by Larna Campbell who we gave a lift to Greenbelt and is my newest friend! It was an amazing deconstructed bible – pages from a bible covered in wax and lit from beneath.

You can see this piece and hear Carla talking about the exhibition in this video here.


Billy Bragg

After the art showing we ran down and caught the last of Billy Bragg’s set. The man is an absolute legend and it was great to see him get a huge crowd going, just him and his electric guitar – nothing else. It was fun singing along to New England (dedicated to Kirsty MacColl).


I was intrigued to go along to what was advertised as an iMass – or ‘digital eucharist’ at which we were invited to take our smartphones and iPads and take part in a service which used digital media. It was a largely hit and miss affair ultimately.
As we arrived there was a time of meditation. We were encouraged to tweet, using the hashtag #iMass, anything that we felt that God was saying. These tweets were projected onto the wall for people to read in the silence. I felt that this worked – we were sitting in silence but communicating in that silence, it was quite moving and because it was twitter it was possible to retweet or reply to people’s tweets. However, during this time an iPad was being passed around the room. It had an app playing that was a pond of fish that when you disturbed the waters with your fingers made a splashing noise and the fish moved away. This was just a pure distraction, the noise wasn’t nice as it was haphazard and the fish app didn’t seem to have any relevance to the service.
Then it came to the service itself. Some of the liturgy was quite nicely written but other sections jarred with me. Text was projected onto screens (not that cutting edge really) accompanied by images I found unhelpful – mainly a poor take on the iPod silhouette adverts with silhouettes of young people holding a white chalice. These images were incongruous for me. For one they were of trendy young people but holding a chalice (not an image one ever sees) and on the other hand they were corporate adverts for Apple adapted for use in Church. They were kind of the equivalent of that cheesy adaptation of the Coca Cola advert with the words ‘Jesus Christ – he’s the real thing’. Fun for a t-shirt perhaps but not an aid to worship!
The funniest moment was when the priest realised that he’d forgotten the bread for communion! So we had to just take ‘virtual bread’ which was kind of appropriate but unintended. One wag drew a loaf of bread on his iPad and propped it against the altar!
I went to receive the wine and was again faced with more distractions. The chalice was a cup decorated with QR codes – why I don’t know! The priest also had QR codes on his stole which made him look current but for me were silly – when were you supposed to scan them? I kind of wish I had scanned them to see what website they pointed to but scanning vestments just feels weird to me and not appropriate during worship.
So all in all I don’t think this quite worked. However, I’m glad Greenbelt is the sort of place this kind of thing can be tried out at. We need to experiment with worship, try and find new ways to express old truths so I’m glad I went and I’m pleased that people wanted to try it.


  1. Really interesting Briony, I didn’t even know this was on so pleased that you’ve pointed it out and written an account.

    I think for me the question in any worship is ‘how does this help people to draw closer to God’. But of course that will be different for different people. I went to two worships which I found really helpful – the opening Blessed Mass where I was privileged to assist with concelebrating (having been recruited, with others, via Twitter!) and the MayBe service which was a quiet, meditative, simple all-age Service. I went to another which I had to leave because I was being asked to join in with things I had physical difficulty joining in with. Yet others may have reacted differently to all these services.

    And the thinking/reflecting about the one I had to leave, and why I felt like I felt, and how we include/exclude people unwittingly by the assumptions we make in worship, may turn out to be the experience which affects me the most.


    • Thanks for commenting Pam! Yes, I feel the same, I was a bit perturbed that the vast majority of the things in the service were actually a distraction rather than an aid to worship – others may well have felt differently, however. I would consider using a twitter wall in that way in worship though – although I think at the moment I’m the only member of my church on Twitter so it would be a bit of a lonely affair! LOL!

      One of the things I like about Greenbelt is the opportunity to experiment and try out different forms of worship – even ones I don’t really like, as as you say, these experiences can really affect us.


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