Christians from across Britain and beyond are arriving in Cheltenham today (27 August) for Greenbelt, one of the country's largest Christian festivals. About 21,000 people are expected to attend the event, which tends to include a focus on Christianity's relationship with society, politics and the arts.
Despite the economic situation, attendance figures have increased significantly since last year. The festival takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse and runs until Monday evening.
Greenbelt's major sponsors include Christian Aid and the Methodist Church. This year's theme is “The Art of Looking Sideways”.
The programme includes a vast diversity of talks, debates, worship, music, arts and performances, as well as activities aimed at children and young people. There are also a large number of campaigning stalls focused on specific issues. These include the Peace Zone, organised by members of the Network of Christian Peace Organisations (NCPO).
Prominent speakers include theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Richard Rohr, human rights activist Peter Tatchell and politician Clare Short. Also present on the programme are comedian Jeremy Hardy, poet Roger McGough and, on the musical side, Courtney Pine and Gil Scott Heron.
Earlier this week, the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia suggested that Greenbelt is showing the institutional churches the way forward in a post-Christendom era.
"The future of Christianity in a plural world involves living out a fresh, hopeful way for humanity, rooted in critical faith and action for justice and peace,” said Ekklesia Co-Director Simon Barrow, “It is not about clinging to privilege, preaching at people from on high and becoming caught up with inward-looking arguments”.
Barrow added, “Celebration, exploration, conversation and thoughtful commitment flow naturally together at Greenbelt. These are the qualities the Christian community needs for its engagement in, and conversation with wider society, at a time when 'religion' is increasingly scrutinised and suspected."