The Greenbelt festival has sold a record number of advanced tickets despite opposition from conservative Christians and a call for a boycott for the second year in a row.
The Christian music and arts festival announced record ticket sales today, following last week’s ‘early bird’ ticket deadline.
This year's boycott by Anglican Mainstream  is over the attendance of human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who has worked closely with church groups on justice issues. Last year's was over the attendance of gay Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.
The effectiveness of the 'boycotts' have always been doubtful as Anglican Mainstream and its supporters are not regular attenders of the Festival, which attracts many young evangelical Christians interested in issues of justice. The group says it is concerned about “the further gayification of Greenbelt.”
Dr Nolland told the Church of England newspaper that attending the festival would leave children more vulnerable to sexual abuse, because of 'Mr Tatchell’s erosion of boundaries' , “particularly if they are told we need to question — explore, try this, try that, try 200 things later on, explore your sexuality — that’s actually a really bad idea”.
But the boycott may even be helping the festival's popularity as many young Christians reject what they regard as an unChristian and bigotted message from the church's hardline wing, and seek what they see as a more faithful witness to the Christian Gospel.
Festival Director Gawain Hewitt said sales were up fifteen per cent on this time last year; the strongest sales since the festival relocated to Cheltenham in 1999.
“In a difficult economic environment,” said Hewitt, “where many festivals have struggled to survive, Greenbelt – an independent, not-for-profit festival – continues to flourish while our ticket prices remain low."
Hewitt, who started work as Festival Director earlier this year, continued: “Greenbelt is sometimes described as ‘the best festival you’ve never heard of’ but increasingly this is inaccurate. These record sales show that people are hearing about Greenbelt, and its unique approach to faith, arts and justice, and they like what they hear.”
This year’s Festival, takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse from 27th – 30th August. Former MP Clare Short, actor and director David Morrissey, theologian Stanley Hauerwas and Radio 4 favourite Canon Lucy Winkett headline the talks programme, whilst elsewhere festivalgoers will enjoy poet and national treasure Roger McGough CBE and comedians Milton Jones, Robin Ince, Jeremy Hardy and Jude Simpson.
Ekklesia's co-director Jonathan Bartley may also be speaking at the festival on politics, as well as headlining the Underground Stage with his blues band The Mustangs , although this has still to be confirmed.