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Reform Magazine | September 29, 2020

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Editorial: Guitar hero

I was at Greenbelt festival this August bank holiday, and, amid all the music, talks and cornucopia of knitted fruit, the moment that stays with me most is a small one.

There is a music venue at Greenbelt called the Canopy, where you can lounge about in the sun, perhaps with a drink from the adjacent Blue Nun bar, while a succession of bands and other performers play on stage throughout the day and into the night. And, throughout the festival, there was a young man who seemed to be there most of the time.

He was a teenager with a mass of dark curls, a burgeoning moustache and a cut-out guitar. He seemed to be on the autistic spectrum. The guitar was a sturdy item, painted or printed in realistic detail on hard board, and, as one band after another played on stage behind him, he stood on the grass facing the audience and mimed along.

Nobody, I think, paid him much mind. He wasn’t in anybody’s way, and, as you might expect, people were happy for him to do his own thing. That is, until the last afternoon of the festival, when a rather fine band by the name of Nick Parker and the False Alarms were playing.

Before their penultimate song, Nick, noticing how they had been accompanied, asked the silent guitarist his name – it was Sam – and invited him to play with the band onstage. Sam’s face lit up spectacularly as he clambered up, stood next to his fellow guitarist and did his thing, especially when Nick gave him an instrumental break. Predictably perhaps, when the song finished, Sam wasn’t about to relinquish the limelight and stuck with the band throughout the last song and for the applause and cheers at the end.

It is a beautiful and powerful thing to share in a moment of joy, as I got to do then thanks to Sam and Nick. The theme of the United Reformed Church’s programme of events at Greenbelt was ‘More Than Welcome’, and we explored how inclusive the Church is, how it can be more so and what difference that could make. There was so much in these events that was engaging and thought-provoking, but nothing got through to me quite so well as that unscheduled moment of illumination.

Real community is not just about ensuring we can all get in, it’s about ensuring we all have a role to play when we are there. Those whose possible contributions are less obvious and come in unexpected ways can be the most powerful and illuminating of all. Thanks, both of you.

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This article was published in the October 2017 edition of  Reform

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