Warden of Readers for the Diocese of Gloucester, Lee Barnes has been involved with the church tent at Glastonbury for the past 30 years. With a month to go until the 2022 festival, he tells us why this iconic festival is such a vital part of his ministry.
“There has been a Christian presence at the festival since the very first gathering in 1970. This should be no surprise because we immerse ourselves in festivals and spirituality and creativity – part of our missional-DNA. I love festival-spirituality, searching for the places of grace where human flourishing can be witnessed and experienced.
“For me, the Glastonbury Festival offers one such place by being part of the Sanctuary Marquee team in serving and being and learning with the festival community.
“I believe we are simply trying to follow Jesus in loving others. There are others doing something similar at other festivals so why do I love this one, and why do I keep going back?
“Surely, some say, Glastonbury Festival is an unreal, hedonistic, naively-idealistic pretence, with little value to what is happening in the world? I could not disagree more. Sure, we have become 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 everyone’s idea of ‘fun’. And yet it does give an important glimpse into a significant part of our culture – which is phenomenally creative, inspiring, challenging, and transformative – which pioneers the Church into new places of engagement and thinking.
The church at the Glastonbury Festival is there providing sanctuary from the colourful chaos, water for dehydrated bodies, a place to breathe, reenergize, sleep, rest, re-create, be accepted, hear people’s stories, and be loved and share the good news of Christ. 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 a bunch of people in a marquee. We are there, with the whole community, celebrating and sharing in myriad reflected stages of life; there can be births, baptisms, wedding blessings and on occasion, sadly, deaths; there is the weather (all farmers together); there is communion shared; there is creativity through music, art, theatre, comedy, conversations and so on. We all dance under the same stars and Jesus dances too.”
Lee shares some of the ways that the tent has had an impact on individuals’ lives. Clare K said, “I came to the festival with a group of friends and after about 24 hours I realised all they wanted to do was get off their heads as much as possible. I suddenly felt very alone with my closest friends as I realised I did not want this for my life.
“You gave me a home when I felt homeless in my soul.”
Harry S said, “‘I had gone for a walk to grab a cup of tea and in the distance, I could hear some music and I felt pulled towards this white marquee which I thought was a hospital because of the cross on the top. I suddenly realised people were singing to God and in the prayers, I felt drawn to this person called Jesus.
“At that moment my life changed.”
Lee continues, “I am part of a small team of incredible people who oversee, organize, and lead the church. We also work with The Coracle (a Celtic sacred space in the healing fields) and connect with the Iona community at the festival. On the first day, we offer prayers of blessing over the festival community. At 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, a festival-God whose sanctuary and love is for all and the Church, I suggest, needs to embrace this often in its mission wherever and whenever it can!
“If you would like to follow us at the festival or connect with more of what we do, then please use the following. And please pray for us – thanks.”