this is the fourth of a series of short reflections celebrating twenty years at cms
my memory of dates is somewhat hazy but greenbelt festival played significant host to creative engagement with new forms of worship and church going back quite a way. i picked up the baton from doug gay in the early 2000s round the time greenbelt landed at cheltenham racecourse and took on co-ordinating it as a volunteer with help from a host of other people - sue wallace, gayle findlay, sonia mainstone, ben edson, ian mobsby and others. doug had co-ordinated worship for the festival hitherto and was one of the pioneers of the late late service which was truly ground breaking back in the day. bear in mind alternative worship had a decade under its belt by the time i picked up the role.
it's probably worth a pause to recap how movements worked back then. if you wanted to get involved in alternative worship there was a photocopied magazine - i think it was called re:sonate with stories and articles but crucially it had a list of groups, people and phone numbers on the back so you could get in contact and go and visit them. there were a few weekend gatherings too but it meant meeting at greenbelt was very precious because it wasn't possible to just chat online and visit someone's web site. one of the first online forums i remember was an email list called postmodern christian which subsequently morphed into other things. hardly anyone had web sites or knew how to access them. it was oldish tech but there was something magical about dial up that connected you into this other world of conversation with people exploring theology and practice in postmodern culture. i can still hear that dial up sound in my head!
but back to the early 2000s and by then it had moved on a bit. cheltenham racecourse had lots of indoor rooms and as long as you could kit them out your self it was easy enough to host a venue or two. we ended up for a good run of hosting two - new forms and new forms 2. the latter was more of an installation venue where the labyrinth made its appearance.
cms were gracious enough to let me do this as part of my job in those early years. cms had been partners themselves at greenbelt for many years anyway.
i was reminded recently of new forms by paul northup, the greenbelt programme director. he interviewed nadia bolz weber for the greenbelt podcast and she said how significant new forms had been for her and others visiting from other parts of the world. he was musing on that. with the new connectivity it became host to people and groups from round the world - new zealand, germany, america, australia, ireland, scotland, england. greenbelt was the perfect host because it loved new ideas, art, theology, practice, risk taking and so on. i bumped into alex and kat at this year's greenbelt and we were remembering the cyber feminist eucharist that they led - where else would you get that?!.
steve collins site smallfire has plenty of photos of that era - this photo is from a grace service on the theme of desert where we suspended a block of ice from scaffolding as you do! he describes the move to cheltenham and what ensued as follows:
This enabled the creation of 'New Forms', a dedicated alternative worship venue with a full sound and audiovisual setup and a rolling programme of worship events and related talks. Many of the events on this site took place in New Forms. During the 2000s Greenbelt was a major showcase for creative worship and a place for practitioners from all over the world to get together.
it was a fun time for sure!
the reason it's been on my mind for a season now is that i think we could do with making visible new forms still. i don't mean the venue and those groups. but i think it would be valuable to see and hear more stories from the edges. i was thinking who i could think of and there are a quite a few in and around the edges of pioneering - new forms such as revs , sacred bean coffee, church gathered around boxing, mountain pilgrims, the table and so on. there must be lots more. i came across a new form called grace notes through chatting with jed at greenbelt this year which i did not know about (i'll blog about that another time and hope to pay it a visit). i still really like the name new forms too....
[update: since writing this i found i had listed in 6 blog posts the various worship things happening which is quite an incredible read - what a feast in one year - see greenbelt worship part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 - that was 2004! part 2 and part 3 are the new forms venues.]