In festival season Veronica Zundel admits that, while she loves Greenbelt, she prefers comfort to camping – but nevertheless is convinced that God loves to be on the move


As a seasoned ‘Greenbelter’, when I think of summer festivals I think of camping. I have camped perhaps four times, but three of them weren’t proper camping. The first was sleeping in a military-style large dormitory tent with camp beds at Taizé, with no need to erect an individual tent or cook food on a camping stove, as we were fed communally (though barely adequately – we were hungry all week). The second was sleeping on the floors of church halls and a redundant church when I was on tour with a German rock band (it’s a long story) but I was only 23 and could cope.

The third was ill-advisedly sleeping on the floor under a Scripture Union book table at a conference, with no bed and no equipment of any kind – but at least it was indoors. The fourth was many years later when I was older and supposedly more sensible, when I drove my son down to Somerset for a camp and stayed overnight before driving home, sleeping on a mattress with a puncture – it gradually deflated during the course of the night. The other disaster of that trip was that I got two speeding tickets, one on the way there and one on the way back, since the powers that be in Chard had in their wisdom installed a 40mph limit sign immediately followed by a 30mph one about ten yards further on.

‘Jews don’t camp’

When we go to Greenbelt, we stay in a local Travelodge or Premier Inn and commute in, though since it’s been in Northamptonshire we’ve stayed in the lovely Aviator Hotel, a former 1930s airfield with Art Deco main buildings and a reproduction Art Deco accommodation block. My excuse for not camping is that “Jews don’t camp”, which I maintained until someone said to me: “What about the 40 years in the wilderness?”. My reply was, of course: “That’s why we don’t camp anymore.” In any case, at my age my bladder won’t let me camp, especially since I’m on a diuretic to stop my legs swelling up too much – getting up three or four times in the night to go to a Portaloo simply isn’t practical.

I’m all for getting in touch with the great outdoors. I just prefer to do it from a beachside café or a park bench. In Austria, every mountain you might climb (translation: walk up a well-made and marked path or take the cable car) has a ‘Hütte’ or mountain restaurant at the top, some extremely stylish and Bond-film-like; the last one we visited had its own petting zoo with no gate and we were joined for lunch by a friendly goat. In Britain, by contrast, you have to take your own packed lunch and there aren’t even any ‘lava-trees’ (as I called them as a child) left to hide behind and answer nature’s call.

The God who camps

Perhaps I am missing out here. It’s arguable that we follow a camping God. All through the 40 wilderness years, God went ahead of the Israelites on their journey, living in a tabernacle, which was grander than the people’s tents but still essentially a glorified marquee. When King David wanted to build a permanent temple for God in Jerusalem, God replied: 

“You shall not build me a house to live in. For I have not lived in a house since the day I brought out Israel to this very day, but I have lived in a tent and a tabernacle” (1 Chronicles 17:4-5, NRSV).

And when God came to live among us as a human being, John 1:14 tells us “he pitched his tent among us” (Jerusalem Bible, notes). This is God on a journey; a pioneer not a settler, not inclined to stay in one place. When C.S. Lewis wanted to convey in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that something new was about to happen, he got the Beaver to say: “Aslan is on the move.”

This may not be good news for those of us who like to feel settled and that not too much is going to change. I’m very bad at moving house and have now been in the same house for 35 years and may be for another 15 months or so (we already own the house we are planning to move to, it’s just that we’re waiting till our tenants are ready to leave). But we are called to follow Jesus, and following implies that the person you are following is going somewhere. You can’t follow a stationary leader…If we can no longer (or never could) be physically mobile, we can still adventure in our minds and hearts. So let’s go!

Veronica Zundel is an author and regular contributor to Bible Reading Fellowship’s New Daylight.