Holly Adams, Lucy Zwolinska and Mollie Pugmire describe the Hope & Anchor, a drop-in space at Greenbelt Festival where ‘matchstick sessions’ ignited meaningful discussions.

hope-and-anchor-greenbelt-conversations-2Holly Adams writes: are you tired of ‘small talk’? Do you wish that once in a while you could speak, share and listen with others about something real? Are you wondering how your church could be a bold, safe space to explore big issues and have meaningful conversations? Welcome to the Hope & Anchor! A bit like your local pub or café, it’s a space for connecting with others and this summer the Methodist Church took it to the Greenbelt Festival for the first time.

The venue had a non-alcoholic bar and tables and chairs where people could meet and have meaningful conversations with both friends and strangers. We facilitated discussions on difficult issues in ‘matchstick sessions’ where we put conversation prompts on the tables to encourage participants to talk about everything from justice and evangelism to faith and identity.

The venue was hosted by a team of (mostly) young adult Methodist volunteers, who talked, listened to, and prayed with the people who came. Let’s listen in to a conversation between two volunteers, Lucy Zwolinska and Mollie Pugmire, as they reflect on their experience.

Lucy: Hi Mollie, how was your weekend at the Hope & Anchor?

Mollie: It’s been wonderful. It’s been so nice to interact with the punters.

Lucy: Completely. It feels such a privilege to be part of meaningful conversations. When I came to the first ‘matchstick session’, I thought my role was just to sit in, but it was more than that. Because we’d told people it was a space for meaningful conversation, they came ready to share, to the point that towards the end I found myself getting a bit emotional, and this gorgeous woman who I’d never met, said: “Lucy I can see this means a lot to you, do you want to talk about it more?” I told her a little bit about what I was feeling and why. She was maybe a few generations older than me, but she’d had similar experiences, both when she was my age and now, and I felt a real connection with her. I know at Greenbelt everyone is really friendly, but it takes something more to go deeper with strangers, and I think we’ve found a way to do that at the Hope & Anchor that makes it a really sacred space.

Mollie: I agree. I had a similar conversation with a lady. It was really lovely, and we’d never have talked about those things had we not been in that place and had the willingness to go a bit deeper and get to the heart of difficult issues. And that was with a stranger! But I’ve also got a lot of friends who came to Greenbelt this year, and they really enjoyed joining us in the Hope & Anchor where we were prompted to have conversations that we wouldn’t have otherwise had, despite being friends for a really long time. It’s been really fulfilling. What’s going to be important is working out how we intentionally can have those deep and meaningful conversations at home, outside the buzz of the festival. 

Lucy: Yes, because it does take a bit of bravery doesn’t it? When I sat down and saw the prompts on the table about the conversations we could have, I felt a little knot in my stomach about some of the vulnerability it could expose. I’ve noticed sometimes that people get a bit teary in those conversations and I think it’s because that knot is unravelling, which is cathartic.

Mollie: That’s so true!

Lucy: And actually, after one of the conversations I had yesterday I got in touch with a friend, which I’d been putting off for a long time, about something that had come up in a matchstick session. I wouldn’t have done it without that conversation with the stranger yesterday. So already, on some level I’ve taken this outside Greenbelt.

Mollie: Wow, that’s really good. It’s really exciting that people have been so receptive, so open to the conversations we’re having in the venue. This all would have failed if people had come in and seen the conversations we were having and said “No, thank you.” And it would have been easy to do that because some of the conversations have been quite tough. The trust that people have placed in us and in the Hope & Anchor as a place where they can come and share their feelings safely is testament to the atmosphere we’ve been able to create. People’s willingness to be open has allowed others to speak and share.

Lucy: So, if you had one tip for people outside Greenbelt, if they wanted to have more meaningful, heartfelt and healthy conversations about things that really matter, what would your tip be?

Mollie: Oh, that’s a good question! I think sometimes we just expect people to pour out their hearts to us, but we’re not prepared to reciprocate, to pour out our hearts in return. I think the conversations we’ve had here have been strong because there’s a sense of doing this together and we’ll go as deep as each other allows. Being able to offer some of my story means other people aren’t quite so scared of being judged.

Lucy: Yes I think that’s important. And I think it’s probably one of the ingredients of a full and meaningful life full of connection and community. And for me, one of the core principles of what it means to be a follower of Jesus is being real with people and allowing them space to be real with me.

Mollie: Yes, that’s what it all comes down to: getting below the surface.

Lucy: I think if you lived every day in the spirit of the Hope & Anchor, meeting people and having deep and meaningful conversations in which you’re prepared to be vulnerable, the world would be a better place. The world would be full of people who are richer because they’ve learned from the experience of others and feel more able to be fully themselves.

Mollie: Amen, Lucy! That captures just how I feel. So, what about you? How can you facilitate conversations like this in your local community? Jesus consistently is our model for how to have intentional conversations. We can follow his example to help people talk about the issues, people and questions that concern them most. Conversations that deeply connect people are essential in all of our mission and ministry as local churches. At the Greenbelt Festival we were blown away by the willingness of people to share their thoughts deeply and openly. We’ve had rich experiences of God in our discussions. We’ve experienced how real conversations change us, change our relationships, and maybe even change our world.