The last time I was able to post an update, I had just returned from ten days at Hay-on-Wye in two festivals: the Hay Literary Festival and How the Light Gets In. I received a ride home from Dafydd who lives near Caernarfon, and after only two short days back at home in Caernarfon, I left again for three more festivals across the UK.
My first stop was Stockport. I met Dee Cunniffe and Hope Deifell, and together the three of us traveled to Appleby-in-Westmorland to visit the Appleby Horse Fair. This was my second year at what is described as Europe’s largest gathering of Gypsies. More than anything this was a learning event. I am deeply concerned that Christians go on mission without understanding the cultures they attempt to reach. Roma, Gypsies, and Travelers are among some of the most misunderstood and abused peoples in history, and if we think that that we can share the life and love of Christ with them without understanding their culture, we are desperately deceived. The fact is that many of them are deeply devoted to God and are lovely people we need to get to know better.
Three Days in Appleby
We stayed with the Pattimores. This was the second time I have stayed with Dan and Kristy just outside Appleby. After three years, the kids are all grown up, and beginning to tower over me. Hope, Dee, Kristy, and I were able to spend over an hour with Billy Welch (the Shera Rom, and organizer of the Horse Fair), which amazed us, because he is such a busy man. Billy spoke about new legislation coming into effect concerning travel trailers and other campers stopping near neighborhoods, and how new restrictions will make traveler life more difficult than it already is. The US has these similar restrictions in many states. Having lived as a traveler for almost three years, I know the struggle of living nomadically and being able to remain within the confines of the law. The Gypsy and Traveler way of life is being attacked by government legislation and, Billy Welsh shared his concerns. He believes that such strict governmental legislation has not been seen since the Nazi regime, and he is concerned for the lives and the culture of his people. We talked about ways that Christian churches might be able to alleviate the growing suppression against the nomadic lifestyle. This is something that will be on my radar for many years to come. Please pray with me for the safety of full and part time travelers, and for blessings upon them.
During the Horse Fair, Hope and I talked with Fred, an atheist Gypsy in his fifties, who talked about how the Horse Fair was when he was younger. Today, many of the shops in the little village close during the fair. In fact, there are more closed shops than open ones during the influx of thousands of Gypsies, Travelers, and the accompanying visitors like us who come to experience the Horse Fair. Fred told us how the Village was welcoming when he was young, and how over time the town became less welcoming, and shops began to close. It saddened me to hear that the village is less welcoming than it once was, and I find myself praying that there might be a change in this attitude at Appleby.
Photos from Appleby
3 Wishes Fairy Festival
Following Appleby, Hope and I made our way down to Cornwall––barely. I say barely, because just across the harbor from Plymouth, which is in Devon, is Torpoint, which is the first edge of Cornwall. We had initially arrived in Bristol, and Diana the “Goth Vicar of Glastonbury” picked us up. We spent two days preparing decorations for the soon coming Glastonbury Festival, and then arrived at Torpoint to help with the set-up of the 3 Wishes Fairy Festival. I was tasked with managing the smooth running of the Main Stage, which was a circus Big Top. From mid-morning until after midnight, I made sure the bands, the sound team, and the Swamp Circus team from Cornwall all got along and that the schedule remained relatively on-time. On Friday and Saturday night of the festival we ran a silent disco from midnight until almost 2am (okay, it was closer to 3am on Saturday). Things went well, and it looks like this might be something I might be doing again next year.
This was my third time helping at the Fairy Festival, and like many other festivals, it felt like I was coming home to serve alongside old friends. After a three-year hiatus from the festivals, many of us remarked that it seemed as though there was never a break, and never the isolation of the COVID season. Things were almost back to normal. There were discussions about spirituality with musicians, and people who self-identify as “Fairies”, “Pixies”, and even “Unicorns”. The Fairy Festival is a gathering of individuals and families who generally identify as Neo-Pagans of one tribe or another and come dressed in the regalia of a fairy world. In the future, I am hoping to connect more with the Swamp Circus and to visit the alternative community they have in Cornwall.
Rushing to Glasto
On Monday morning after the Fairy Festival, we had to make haste and head to Glastonbury town to pick up the decorations Hope, Diana, and I had prepared for the Iona Community space at the Glastonbury Festival. We got a quick shower, licked up our gear, repacked for Glasto, and grabbed a pizza for the road. When we arrived at the festival, we were told that the gate for early arrivals was closing in ten minutes. We were about 12-minutes’ walk away, and so with all our gear, Hope and I set off in haste to get to the gate. We arrived huffing and puffing to discover that it was still open for another 4 hours. Upon entering the gate, I pointed to a distant location of the festival, and told Hope, “We are somewhere in a copse of trees––way over there.” Sometime late in the night, after the setting sun of the second longest day of the year, we arrived in the dark at the Iona Community.
We helped set up camp, we decorated the little area with shiny apples made from bags like ones I had once bagged tea in. Diana had created a series of seven framed art pieces representing the seven last words of Jesus, and there were hula-hoops with ribbons resembling dreamcatchers hanging in the trees. With Christmas lights strung in the trees it was all quite dreamy, and when the festival started on Thursday, people came into our little Iona Community (link) copse to relax from the heat of the midday sun or sit by a warm fire in the cold of the late night. The Iona Community space sits on the edges of day and night-time events, and at the edges of the live music stages and Green Futures field. It perfectly represents the spaces in-between the worlds of high-technology and ecologically minded concern, between the light and darkness, and between wild abandon and thoughtful meditation. Friday and Saturday nights rolled into Saturday and Sunday morning, and we finally said goodbye to the last of our visitors at 4am on Saturday morning, and 5am on Sunday morning. As the sun rose, we went to sleep grateful for the deep discussions about spirituality and life with the hundreds of people who came to visit us. Debbie Chaloner is the Iona Community leader who oversees this event, and among the eight of us there were three vicars a pastor and loads of experience in festival outreach settings. Hope was new to this event, but as I knew would be the case, she became an indispensable part of the team.
Like the Fairy Festival, Glastonbury was a reunion of friends, and a reconnection with people who remembered us from previous years. I cannot over-emphasize the power of connecting with people in the places they visit for their inspiration. The festivals of our world have become the expressions of “church” for the unchurched. And this should be no surprise to us. Like the Feasts of Israel that were established by God as a gathering space for the Jewish people, the festivals of our world are becoming yearly gatherings where people reignite their zest for life in a community of like-minded people. It is my contention that these places are under-represented by Christianity, and it is now our responsibility to change that. But as we change that, if we do it in the classical manner of 20th Century Christian evangelistic outreach, we will only prove to the world that we do not care to understand them. In fact, it will be evidence to them (whether true or not) that we do not care for them at all. Our responsibility includes developing an anthropology for the subcultures of our changing world. May we learn to learn once again.
Pics from Glasto and Iona Community