From a youth camp in Devon, to the anti-fracking protest camp at Balcombe and then onto the Greenbelt festival I participated in three very different communities. It wasn’t a relaxing holiday, more the body-aching-wood-smoke-smelling-when-will-I-see-hot-water-again kind.
But I think I was hoping to be uncomfortable. I wanted to be in that place where I am moved, where the fire in my blood about the state of the world is roused and my sense awakened. It is so easy to lose that in day to day life. Even when we wake to a job we really believe in, it’s easy to feel disconnected, to pay more attention to the ache of tiredness, than the pang of injustice.
It was not your usual summer holiday. And this is what I learnt…
Community is eating together
Lee Abbey is a Christian community in Devon which hosts an annual youth-camp. Driving past the main community house we descend into a small signal-free dip, and begin to smell the woodsmoke from the fire-shelter. Woodsmoke curls under finger-nails and wisps into hair – as fire heats the three boilers, Faith, Hope and Charity. These aptly named givers in turn provide the hot water required for the camp to boil potatoes, whip up gravy and wash it all up at the end. A cooks team works fearlessly in the face of the fire as the boiler man/woman keeps everything as stoked as a first-year during Freshers week.
When we cook together, eat in sync and slop soap down ourselves we enact simple and primeval principles. All that chewing creates a rhythm – young people know it’s a mealtime because music is played loudly and raucously. And when we get angry or tired over a small thing brought up by all the cooking, cleaning, washing up and stoking, we breathe, try to see grace through misty rage and ask for more and more and more of this uncomfortableness which exposes our own vulnerability.
Community is creating together
Non-hierarchical consensus decision-making. Vegan kitchens and a committed bunch of first-timers and seasoned activists joining together for a six day camp. Setting up shop in solidarity with the people of Balcombe who have been resisting the exploitation of their local landscape for eighteen months. A completely new world for me of direct action, protest on the front-line rather than in a speech or an opinion piece.
And a lot of faith. In the possibility of change. In a new generation of activists (not delineated by age as much as by experience). In each-other.
It’s an intoxicating mix which leads to a day of creative and iconoclastic direct action. Campaigners close off the drilling site with arm-locks and bike blocks while sister actions happen simultaneously across the country. A team super-glue themselves to Cuadrilla’s PR company HQ in London and a the blade of a wind turbine is delivered to the roof of Francis Maude MPs constituency office. You can read more about the anti-fracking protests and the rationale behind No Dash For Gas’s actions here – and at the end of that burst of creativity there was dancing, dancing and hope in the dancing.
Community is space
And finally onto the Greenbelt festival. Celebrating their 40th year of community and commitment to diversity, social justice and artistic license. Exposure to God who is as mystical as the eucharist sung to Les Mis, as whole as a warmed teapot and as brimful of good humour as a pint. I remember being bounced through the mud when the festival occupied its old site, smelling the night air far past my bedtime.
Greenbelt is a place that helps some of us to locate our theology in this ever-expanding culture without it losing its challenge, its bite. I tell friends the programme and see their interest in a faith which says things and pushes us, which gives people space to be themselves and admits to wanting to learn from them, learn from them all.
So, creating together, eating together and breathing space.
Consuming together doesn’t create community, creating together does. Preparing food together and then eating it is a different thing to dining al fresco soaking up an atmosphere. And if you give people true space to be loved, rather than merely tolerating their difference, you begin to appreciate the marvels of humanity.
A friend I made in Balcombe noticed something when he saw everybody dancing after the day of action. Looking at the abandon of the shapes we threw, he thought, ‘These people dance better than any others, because they dance at the end of a day well spent.’
So it wasn’t Hepburn’s Roman Holiday. There were no tavernas or moon-lit sangria’s. But there were catch-your-breath moments of glee, when the world turns on a shared drum-beat, or an all hands to the pump meal-time, or the uninhibited body-twist of somebody who has not danced for too long.
Hannah Martin, 24, is passionate about youth development, social justice, good strategy, great dancing and unpolished Christianity. She occasionally tweets @Hannah_RM