The bank holiday weekend has seen The Sweeps Festival in Rochester. My role throughout this has been to be a ‘presence’ in and around the cathedral. It’s been an interesting role – not particularly pioneering, but there have been some interesting questions and discussions with people visiting. I have prayed with a few people, answered faith type questions, and advised a young man getting married that feeling nervous is quite normal. A lot of the time, though, has been spent smiling and greeting people as they come into the cathedral.
On a couple of occasions I have managed to get outside the cathedral and taste the real flavour of the festival. While the cathedral is a place of calm the streets are overflowing with people enjoying the folk music and the morris dancing while enjoying a pint or two of real ale. The festival has a great atmosphere with people looking to have a good time while enjoying and remembering some traditional English arts. On a few occasions I have been able to enjoy the music and the beer.
As I wondered around on the Saturday I had one negative, but interesting, comment from a woman who walked past me as I was standing outside the cathedral. ‘Ugghhh morris dancers and priests! They don’t go together!’ In a sense she is right, but I wonder (1) why she thought that and (2) is it actually the case.
The tradition of morris dancing is popularly thought to have its root in paganism, and I guess the comment came from the woman because of this. As a Christian, however, who believes this world is God’s creation and that there is nowhere where God is not present, then I have to say I disagree with the comment. Morris dancing and priests do go together (and yes I know I am a deacon, but it was not appropriate to point out the difference to this lady). Actually I have looked into this pre-christian pagan thing and apparently there is no evidence to suggest that is the root of morris dancing. I have also met over the last few days quite a few people involved in church who are also heavily involved in morris dancing.
As I wandered and chatted with some people there seemed to be quite a large open-ness. Large numbers of people seemed to be interested in ‘things spiritual’. I wonder if the interest in Folk and the interest in Morris Dancing feeds a spiritual appetite in people. While the interest many had with things spiritual, it would not be seen as mainstream Christianity. People spoke more of ‘mother earth’ and a ‘deep energy’. I had a sense of people worshiping creation rather than the creator.
I think this may be the case and I am wondering whether a better way to engage with people at this festival is more along the lines of what we offer at the MBS fair I spoke of a little while ago. Certainly many people were interested in spirituality and an opportunity to explore some of these in a relaxed way as we do at MBS may well work here. I wonder whether through things like the Jesus Deck, prayer beads and dream interpretation may the kind of thing that these folk and morris lovers that people here might be able to experience some of the wonder of the creator God.
These are all just early thoughts off the back of the festival but I’m just wondering – does anyone else out there have experience of MBS type stuff being done at musical / folk festivals? If so, I’d be really interested in talking to you.