The spectacle is callisthenic rather than erotic; so that one couple claimed they had seen men dancing in bikinis on the stage behind clouds of dry ice. Transvestism would have added nothing to the grotesquerie of the occasion.
The 'Nine O'Clock Service', as they call themselves, performed on the main stage at the Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival at Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire, on Friday night. They opened late, at around 9.15. A singer tried to teach the crowd three new 'worship songs'. She wanted them to sing to God: 'I need you, I need you . . . feel your caresses down my spine . . . Fill me, for you alone can satisfy my needs.'
The audience at the festival, mostly young and mostly there out of curiosity, tried for a while to sing along. Then the singer left the stage and there was a pause of 10 minutes while something went wrong with the sound system. This was followed by a call for silent prayer, followed by a sort of rap prayer with electronic backing from the stage: 'You may be black. You may be white. You may be Jew or Gentile. It don't make any difference in our house.'
'God is already here]' shouted the singer in tones of revelation. 'Lord, you're incredible]' Even a sceptic would have agreed. As soon as the service got properly underway, any noise the audience might have made was drowned out by the sort of sound system normally used by rock acts. Above the stage, and to the sides, a series of increasingly pretentious slides and sentiments flashed up. Crosses and other symbols flashed on screen too fast to follow as the service moved to a climax. 'Eat God]' proclaimed the signs. The music grew louder. 'Swallow God]' said the signs. 'Come inside] Come inside]' the singer wailed to Jesus.
The stage filled with dancers. A man started shouting above the beat about Life, hoarse and indecipherable until suddenly he yelled 'God in your face]' over and over. The audience responded by leaving in embarrassing numbers. It was enough to make anyone wish he had never been born again.
The rest of the 19th annual festival, attended by 20,000 people, was extraordinarily peaceful and full of fun. There were musicians ranging from buskers to Bob Geldof, who will play tonight; discussions on every sort of Christianity; and no litter anywhere. Next year the festival will move to a permanent site closer to the M1.
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