An appreciative, but exhausted,
account of the Bristol Festival

THE NAVE STARTED to fill up by 11 am. Extra seating down the side aisles and at the narthex looked optimistic at that time, by noon it was standing room only. The clergy (150 concelebrants, ten bishops or so) had vested across the green in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel, and the Saturday traffic of shoppers and city residents was halted to allow the procession to cross the main thoroughfare. A wind kept the rain at bay and sunshine broke through as the west door was approached. It all seemed very normal and anglican and cathedral-esque; but there was a poignancy in the moment that one stepped into the cathedral where the first woman had been ordained to join the assembled company on this autumn morning.

The mood changed with a confident introit, and the mass settled into the mixture of relaxed prayerfulness and joyous singing that is the hallmark of these catholic occasions. “Gloria – gloria – in excelsis Deo”, you can’t beat our folk for congregational response. Or was it the Welsh who lifted the singing, with their PAB so obviously enjoying the hymns? The sermon was simply brilliant, a tour de force by the Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, perfect in length and content, the Spirit discerning and sharp within the encouraging wisdom. The Offertory was brought up by members of the Bishop’s family, whose grandchildren, like the olive branches, were happily sprawled over the front pews.

The communion over, the chance for some informality and presentations. Fr. Keith Newton, vicar of Knowle, Bristol introduced the Third Estates Commissioner, Mrs. Margaret Laird, who was to speak and give the cheque. Spontaneous applause when she touched on the work of the PEVs giving us a picture of “what bishops were meant to be about”, and how John Ebbsfleet had given heart to so many. Standing ovations: the bishop obviously moved so that for a moment it looked as if the pain of the past 5 years would overwhelm both him and us, but then a final rallying cry to the troops to persevere, and we were out in the afternoon sunshine to enjoy a picnic on the cathedral green.

John Hares, whose initial vision for a westcountry gathering turned into something more, was there on the day. So too his committee who had the task of organising the event and of liaising with the cathedral authorities, who could not have served us better. Your contributor journeyed to and fro on a coach, one of several that had been hired for the day. If John Ebbsfleet were ever in the future to doubt the affection in which he is held, and the sacrifices he has called from us, your contributor will gladly send him one empty packet of travel pills as conclusive evidence.