I have just returned from the Greenbelt Festival at the beautiful new venue of Boughton House near Kettering. I had a wonderful time. I love Greenbelt, I’ve been going since 2008. I love the fact that you get to camp (even if it does rain in a biblical manner every other year or so), hear some great music, have serendipitous encounters with people and God and hear some challenging talks from inspiring speakers.
I enjoyed a discussion in the Big Top between Nadia Bolz-Weber and Sarah Miles on welcoming the stranger. I couldn’t help but notice, however, how different their context in America is from the Church context in the UK. One person asked how one can change the culture of a church community that is not ‘new’. It turned out that Nadia’s church was founded in 2007, Sarah’s was comparatively ‘old’ at 30 years old. The church I work in is 1000 years old. There’s a key difference, right there. Someone else asked why liturgical worship is less popular with young people in the UK whereas in Sarah and Nadia’s churches the worship is liturgical. The response was that disaffected evangelicals are coming across to more sacramental forms of worship. There’s another massive difference. We don’t have lots of disaffected young evangelicals. Heck, we don’t have that many evangelicals. We don’t have a culture of church-going in the UK. We don’t have a huge variety of types of church to choose from on a Sunday like there is in the US. So, while I was inspired by what Sarah and Nadia had to say, I will have to do a fair bit of translation to see what would work in the very different soil of the UK.
This made me think. Where are our Nadias and Sarahs? Why are all the big Christian speakers at Greenbelt Americans?
I think I know the answer. British people hate celebrities. We hate them so much that we have a different name for famous people we love – we call them National Treasures instead. Celebrity is nearly always a distasteful word.
Look to the church for celebrities and the problem is compounded – couple British self-deprecation with a Christian imperative of humility and you’ll find all celebrities of whatever flavour roundly disliked and distrusted. Look at how mean people have been to Rev Kate Bottley (of wedding flashmob fame) and Rev Sally Hitchiner (who did a photoshoot in the Times called The Vicar Wears Prada). We’re even mean to our ‘celebrities’ who are clever – poor old Rowan Williams.
I think we tolerate American celebrity Christians because they fit in the American culture and we can admire them from afar. I think this is why we will be doomed to have American speakers at Greenbelt for the forseeable future. We just don’t like a show-off (and especially clergy); our self-deprecating mean nature won’t allow it. Any well-known Christian in the church in the UK usually has to spend quite a lot of time apologising for themselves even if they are invited to speak at an event. As Nadia said in one of her talks this year ‘You guys with the apologising! I’ve never had so many people say sorry to me!’ To which the crowd replied, in a great Life of Brian-manner, ‘sorr-eeeee!’
Here are my pictures from the weekend. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment in the comments below.
Fr Eddie has written an insightful response to my question of where the emergent leaders in the UK are:
Here’s a tweet response from Heather:
She’s quite right, we have had a few British celebrity speakers but I’m arguing that the main names are nearly always American and that is precisely because if you’re British you’re going to get way more flack.
Also worth reading Karl’s thoughts on being a first time speaker at Greenbelt this year and his thoughts on Christian ‘celebrity’: http://karlsrandommusings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/reflections-of-first-time-christian.html