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The literature festival that welcomes faith

The count-down to the Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature is well and truly on, writes Festival Director Sarah Meyrick. This year’s Festival – the sixth – will take place on 21 and 22 February at Bloxham School near Banbury in a beautiful part of north Oxfordshire.

What’s it all about? Well, we describe the Festival as ‘a literary festival with a theological slant’. Our mission is to encourage a love of literature as it relates to faith, and to create a thoughtful and relaxing space in which to consider works of literature and their religious and moral themes.

That means we bring together a range of fascinating speakers to talk about everything from fiction to non-fiction, music to poetry, art to drama, history to debate. The programme is made up of lectures, conversations and performance, offering the chance for audience interaction and book signings. Our 2020 theme is The Power of Love and you can expect a mix of the serious and not-so-serious, the entertaining and the weighty. It’s deliberately eclectic, eccentric, unexpected.

This year, for example, we’ll be inviting people to delve into the love poetry of George Herbert and R.S. Thomas with Mark Oakley, discover forgotten stories of 16th-century love and marriage with Suzannah Lipscomb, and examining the darker side of love with novelist Jo Baker and campaigner Natalie Collins.

You can find out about a raft of famous Anglican women novelists (think Charlotte Bronte to P. D. James), and spend time with the writers behind a story collection inspired by a literary retreat for women. Or discover just how Sam Wells set about abbreviating the Bible from 360,000 words to 20,000.

Generally, faith is not well served by most literary festivals. There’s a nervousness in our secular world that religion is just too weird. Off-putting. We’re confident we’re the only UK literary festival devoted to celebrating the very best fiction and non-fiction with a faith perspective – and the responses of our audience suggests it’s well worth doing.

What we’re trying to do is offer food for thought and encouragement to think. We don’t offer workshops or training – but rather a dose of inspiration. Something to feed our faith via the arts and our imagination. You’ll perhaps know that famous Emily Dickinson poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise.

The Truth, she suggests, is too big, too bright, too dazzling to comprehend face on. Stories and music and art and creativity can help us find our way towards Truth. I love that idea of the light breaking in sideways, at an unexpected angle.

And why February? Partly because of availability of our venue, and partly because there’s not much else on offer. It’s a grim time of year. We like to think we offer a little light in winter’s gloom. You can buy tickets for a single session or stay all day, both days. Why not come along and find out more?

Tickets are available at www.bloxhamfaithandliterature.co.uk and 0845 017 6965.

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To find back issues of the INSPIRE mini-mag - seasonal and themed issues - go to https://www.cpo.org.uk/search.aspx?q=Inspire

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