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30 June 2017

Community and celebration: finding joy and taking heart…

Community and celebration: finding joy and taking heart…

Selina Stone is the coordinator of the Buxton Leadership Programme and the director of the William Seymour Programme at the Centre for Theology and Community. 


This week saw the 47th year of what is now simply known as 'Glastonbury'. This globally-recognised event began in 1970 as a pop, folk and blues festival with a ticket price of £1 (with a free carton of milk from the local farm). Launched as an alternative to the commercialised festivals of the time, it sought to be a space of community and celebration for the everyday person. 

Throughout its early history it brought together music, spirituality, community and politics in response to the dramatically changing world. From promoting nuclear disarmament during the cold war era to pushing the concern for environmental issues, this gathering has been much more than a standard festival. It has supported many local charities through the years as well as larger organisations including Oxfam, WaterAid and Greenpeace. Despite challenges from the local council, it has seen consistent growth and attracts an increasingly wide range of performers and attendees each year. 

Skip forward to the present day and you will definitely pay more than £1 for a ticket while facing the marked absence of free milk. While certain aspects of Glastonbury's festival culture would not be accepted by all Christians, its ethos of creating space for community and celebration is a welcome one. However, the ethos of creating space for community and celebration remain strong. This week, the pictures and clips of musicians, laughter, joy and friendship have been a powerful statement in our current climate. 

While many communities are still suffering the pain of the recent events across our country and the world some may ask, what place is there for joy and happiness? Activists, church leaders, community organisers, teachers and many others are seeking answers and justice for those affected by Grenfell Tower and the recent terror attacks. The road to justice seems long and steep and filled with many obstacles.

For those of us who feel overwhelmed with despair and weighed down by grief, Jesus comforts us with these words in John 16:32-33:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Jesus does not deny reality or call us to deny it; his words force us to acknowledge the world as it is. Jesus openly declares, "I have told you these things..." in order that we would "have peace" in the knowledge that he is aware and in our midst. Again, he reiterates that we will definitely have trouble, but here he says: "take heart!" 

Among those who are oppressed or impacted by injustice, joy is not an act of denial but something counter cultural. While grief and sadness threaten to drain us of strength, joy resists this threat, and makes room for the work of God in our hearts. Joy may be found in many places in these times; in the giggles of a child, a catch up with a close friend, a visit to the beach, some live music or sport, dance, art or a good film. Joy is a powerful energiser for the downtrodden and those who would seek to walk with them. We are born of a Spirit who is powerful in outworking love, joy and peace in our lives and in the world. 

We may be saddened, angered or overwhelmed, but we must not give in to despair. In the face of injustice, anguish and violence, we are called to be a people of hope and joy and laughter - because 'the joy of the Lord is our strength' (Neh 8:10). In our mission to proclaim the gospel, stand with those on the margins, to defend the weak and act justly – joy is a strength not a contradiction.

To take heart suggests we should be confident, courageous, hopeful and encouraged... For he has overcome the world!

Image: CC Sarah Lachise