Glastonbury Reception Centre and Sanctuary
Glastonbury reached its peak as a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages; the needs of pilgrims being met by the monks of the Benedictine Abbey. With the destruction of the monastery during Tudor times, pilgrimage lapsed. Today in the twenty-first century, there has been a huge resurgence of interest in the town as a centre of pilgrimage. But now, instead of a centre of Christian pilgrimage, Glastonbury has emerged as a place that recognises and honours all faiths and beliefs and all those on a sacred journey.
The increasing number of visitors, interested in the spiritual and healing aspects of the town, led to an awareness that a centre specialising in informing and supporting ‘pilgrim’ visitors would be of value to both visitors and the community alike.
In 2007, a group of passionate and interested people came together to explore the formation of a not-for-profit centre, that could offer support to visitors from all over the world, interested in the unique and diverse aspects of Glastonbury. Elisabeth Tham (Chair), along with Ingelise Jensen, Morgana West, Pauline Ross and Jane Sanders, set up a formally constituted Association and Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre, now known as Glastonbury Reception Centre and Sanctuary. This first opened its doors to the public at 1a Church Lane in 2008. Its objectives were as follows:
- To actively help in building Glastonbury as a centre of pilgrimage for people of all faiths and beliefs.
- To offer a range of services to pilgrims, visitors, residents and researchers including information, teaching and support.
In 2009, the Centre moved to 10b High Street. In due course, the centre identified that not only was it supporting visitors, but also resident pilgrims; plus the local community in general. The Centre responded by adapting its services accordingly. It extended its remit to include:
- Encouraging and creating spaces where interfaith dialogue, learning and understanding could take place.
- Building bridges between the secular and spiritual communities.
- Offering a valuable contribution to the social and economic aspects of Glastonbury.
As the Centre’s work developed, the faith and beliefs communities plus the civic and secular communities began to recognise that the organisation was a valuable and much-needed link between the diverse individuals and organisations within the town. In 2011, due to its rapidly growing expansion, a new not-for-profit Company Limited by Guarantee, known as Glaston Centre Ltd (GCL) was set up to take over the existing Association.
Glastonbury Therapists Forum
In 2007, and inline with the importance of healing at pilgrimage sites, the Centre, led by founding member Jane Sanders, undertook the enormous task of compiling and providing details of the many forms of therapies and healing found in Glastonbury. Glastonbury Online, a portal website to Glastonbury, had previously developed an area where therapies and practitioners could be listed. However, maintaining up to date details was onerous and challenging. Together, Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre and Glastonbury Online, developed the Glastonbury Therapists Forum.
The Glastonbury Unity Candle
In 2010, Morgana West, on behalf of the Centre and working with Jami Evans of Starchild, created the Glastonbury Candle. Including an essence infused with Glastonbury flowers, herbs and trees, together with the world-famous Glastonbury Holy Thorn, (see The Glastonbury Thorn) the Candle is now a familiar sight in venues all over the town and exact replicas have gone out all over the world. Following its starring role in Glastonbury 2012: a Celebration of Harmony and Healing, the community began to refer to it as the Glastonbury Unity Candle and its name was changed accordingly.
To Be a Pilgrim?
Since the Centre first opened, the noun ‘Pilgrim’ contained within its title was hotly debated. Whilst there were those visitors and residents comfortably identifying with being a pilgrim, and on being on pilgrimage, a proportion of those experiencing Glastonbury and following a contemporary spiritual path felt 'pilgrim' was something they were unable to connect with. They perceived it as being associated only with Christianity. On the opposite side of the coin, many of those of the Christian faith saw the Centre as being either of the New Age or Pagan.
As a consequence of these perceptions, encouraging people to come to a wider awareness of ‘pilgrim’ and ‘pilgrimage’ was challenging. Also, ongoing feedback reported that it prevented people from calling into the Centre. In 2014, in addressing those issues, the Centre created a defined space for people of all beliefs to be able to experience spiritual encounter, regardless of background, and changed its name to Glastonbury Reception Centre and Sanctuary.
The processes within pilgrimage are ones that almost all spiritual seekers to Glastonbury find themselves encountering and the Reception Centre continues to acknowledge and highlight the stages and experiences of an ancient way, reflective of Glastonbury’s historical past, yet appropriately mirroring the 21st Century experience.
A Multi-Faith Space
The number of shared and open spaces for prayer, reflection and meditation has risen over the last ten years with recent research from the University of Liverpool stating there are more than 1,500 multi-faith spaces (MFS) in the UK.
The majority of these places are found in secular non-places such as airports, universities, prisons, government buildings, retail centres, hospitals and so-forth. These facilities have been provided as areas in which to ‘house difference’ rather than bringing people together. The most common and characteristic MFS offers a white room with a few religious/spiritual texts on a shelf, proffering nothing more than a place in which to undertake practices, rather than experiencing real spiritual encounter.
The Sanctuary area within Glastonbury Reception Centre was created to offer a freely available indoor space where all beliefs of good intent could come together and experience a sense of connection.
At the end of September 2015, the economic climate forced the organisation to rethink and it became necessary to close the Centre and Sanctuary at 10b HIgh Street. In December 2015, a space was rented within the Library of Avalon in the rear courtyard with the Glastonbury Experience complex, a return to and a Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre Information Point was created.
- http://news.liv.ac.uk/2012/03/22/study-finds-increase-in-multi-faith-space/ RETRIEVED 26.7.15.
- In an essay and book of the same title, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995), Marc Augé coined the phrase "non-place" to refer to anthropological spaces of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as "places". RETRIEVED 26.7.15.
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Glastonbury Reception Centre Author: Morgana West 26.07.15