It is often said that a day can change your life. Well, Saturday 30 June 1984 certainly changed mine as it was my first visit to the Glastonbury Pilgrimage.

It was one of those perfect June days with warm sunshine but tempered with a cool breeze for which Glastonbury is so well known. I had never attended a Mass outside before, nor with a congregation of upwards of 3,000. It had a profound effect on me and it is a day that I will never forget.

The afternoon procession from St John's down the High Street and back into the Abbey for Solemn Evensong was spectacular. It seemed to go on forever, with parish banner after parish banner streaming out of St Johns. I think that the procession took almost an hour. That was the one and only pilgrimage that I have attended as just a pilgrim, for the following year, dear Fr Bill Portnall of blessed memory, from Holy Trinity, Bath, roped me into helping in the Sacristy tent. One year the famous wind became a veritable gale and I recall the sacristy staff trying to catch the consecrated flying hosts with as much dignity as they could muster!

Memorable celebrations

I suppose the next great pilgrimage for me and 8,000 or so others was in 1988 when we celebrated the St Dunstan Millennium with Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the principal celebrant, arriving and leaving by helicopter. That year must be the highlight in

all of the 84 years that the pilgrimage has been going. In October of that year I was elected to the Council.

It was at about that time that I came to the notice of Chris Verity. I am not quite sure how many jobs I did for him over the next twelve years but there were many. In 1995 Chris asked me to be MC to the presiding bishop at Evensong. In those days the altar was in the arch with the very high throne situated at the extreme east end of the chancel.

At the end of the Magnificat, the bishop called me up and asked where the nearest loo was! Luckily for him the St John Ambulance station was up the bank behind the throne, so I removed the bishops cope and mitre in case of an embarrassing photograph being taken and watched the bishop sprint up the hill and back in time to preach. I haven't named him as he is still very much alive and living in North Norfolk! The said bishop happily returned to the pilgrimage in 2007 to preach, arguably, the finest sermon we have heard in many a year. Chris Verity was for many years the Liturgical steward who retired from the Council at the AGM last year. I would like to pay tribute to him and to thank him again for the many, many years of loyal support and hard work he gave the Association.

Taking a stand

With that infamous vote by the General Synod in 1992 our numbers dropped dramatically, but I think it should be remembered that the pilgrimage was one of the first Catholic organizations to state publicly that it would not allow women priests to either concelebrate or officiate at the pilgrimage.

The first and, in my opinion, the greatest tragedy to the pilgrimage following that vote was the loss of St John's and a number of their vital personnel. It is my earnest wish that one day we will be able to share this great day together again.

At the AGM in 2000 Fr David Cossar stood down as Chairman and his place was taken by Bishop John Richards. I was elected Secretary at the same meeting. I remember with some affection JR's attitude to the meeting when no one would volunteer to become treasurer. He said, in that booming voice of his, 'Well, we will just sit here until someone comes forward to take on the job as we can't function without one.'

After some five minutes Fr Alwyn Jones, a retired priest from Bristol, agreed to take the job. Thank you, Alwyn, for saving the day! Having a bishop as our chairman was indeed a novelty, but one that has been a great success.

Following Bishop John's sudden and untimely death, Bishop David Silk, newly retired as the Bishop of Ballarat, agreed to become our Chairman.

Over the past six years Bishop David has overseen a number of major changes, the most radical being the moving of the afternoon procession to the morning as the entrance procession for Mass. This has not been universally popular.

Partnership with WaterAid

However, that change has enabled our friends from the beleaguered Church in Wales to come over the water in enormous numbers. We are so grateful for their support. The other major development over the past couple of years has been our partnership with WaterAid. The generosity of parishes and individuals has been spectacular and I am expecting to be able to announce at the pilgrimage in June that we will have raised 25,000 since the partnership was launched in January 2007. For a one-day event, that is quite remarkable.

The pilgrimage finances, however, were in dire straits after last years pilgrimage, but the Council decided that it was vital that we continue to be a presence in the West Country during these difficult times both for us in the Church of England and those in the Church in Wales. I am therefore, enormously grateful to CBS, Cost of Conscience and the Church Union for their financial support.

In particular I want to thank Forward in Faith for agreeing to fund a new project at this years pilgrimage on 20 June. We have been very privileged to have Fr Dean Atkins, from the Youth Office of the Diocese of Llandaff, to carry on the work that Fr Ronald Crane and Jackie Ottaway have done for us so admirably over the past six years or so.

For the first time we will be able to cater for both children aged 6-11 in the G Whizz tent and young people aged 11-16 in the G Force tent alongside. Lets see lots of young people with us in June.

They are our future, after all. 

Further information from <robinrthwaites@btinternet.com> or 01373 832767

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