I first encountered the Grail in 1956 when I was in College. Fr John Caden, the curate from St Mary's, repeatedly asked me to come to Grail meetings. I repeatedly refused on grounds of pressure of work!
When I started teaching in 1957, another new member of staff invited me to join her at a Grail meeting! This time I accepted, thus changing my life forever.
In this Grail Formation Group for young single women, with Fr John as chaplain, I learned so much. We studied booklets on the Gospels, and on marriage preparation, among other topics, and followed various Grail Campaigns. The most enduring of which was the 'Yes, certainly' campaign. I still find myself responding to requests with those words, and meeting some very interesting challenges as a result.
Several of us married at about the same time and, reluctant to lose what we valued, we formed a married women's group. Over time, our husbands began to feel they were missing something and asked to be included. The Grail, as always, responded to the needs of the time, and Family Circles were born.
Coming to Waxwell, The Grail Centre, for Family Weeks was another life-changing activity. Coming from an area in the North, where Vatican II was accepted grudgingly, if at all, it was refreshing to meet people who welcomed, and indeed embraced, change.
Family weeks recharged our batteries for the rest of the year. The children felt loved and accepted, the parents were relaxed and happy, stimulated and inspired. Some of our children to this day bear the stamp of Ruth, acquired on Family Weeks, and quite ineradicable! It is no coincidence that our oldest granddaughter is called Jessica Ruth.
I have fond memories of learning to sing the Psalms with Dom Gregory Murray OSB at a Family Week, and of trips to Earls Court for the Royal tournament. We made friends to last a lifetime. We learned to think for ourselves and not be afraid to challenge the status quo.
Matt and I renewed our marriage vows one Family Week in the chapel at Waxwell during a wonderful mass. (Our first wedding was a brief affair with no music and an air of disapproval because Matt was not a Catholic at that time) All the women raided the Garden Party leftovers for hats and it was a splendid celebration. Philippa took the 'wedding photo'.
When we moved to Rochdale, as well as running a Family Circle Group, (Family Circles were groups for married people) we became diocesan representatives. This gave us the opportunity to meet a wide variety of clergy and lay people, from the very young, enthusiastic curate who wanted to start five Family Circles simultaneously, to the mother who thought her daughter was heading for hell and would I tell her! There was nothing wrong with her daughter, she was a simply a modern young woman of faith with a very traditional and fearful mother. Neither could understand the validity of the other's beliefs and way of life, yet both could function perfectly well within the Church. I like to think we helped them to a better understanding.
Over the years Matt and I worked with Christine Orchard, Dorothy Kent and Jessica Hewett, all members of the Grail Community. And Matt did a 'Get away and give week' for teenagers with Catherine Widdicombe.
We were once asked to talk about the Grail to a People's Week in Spode House. We were very well received by everyone except the chaplain, who really did not like the Grail. His problem was that he could not fit them into a box! They did not teach, nurse, care for the elderly or do any of the things he saw as women's work in the Church. He could not grasp the idea of serving the needs of the time.
When Family Weeks moved from Waxwell and were run, not by the Grail Community Members but by other Grail people, I was very worried. I did not see how the wonderful atmosphere could be recreated anywhere else, by anyone else. How wrong I was! Some of my happiest memories come from Betty Barker's weeks and those run by Sheelagh and Tony Pickles. I was even brave enough to run a couple myself.
The Grail prepared us to take a full part in Church life and it was amazing to note how many of the group leaders at the National Congress in Liverpool in 1980 were Grail people.
Grail training gave us the skills and the confidence to take the lead in our parishes, and dioceses. I wonder how many Journey in Faith courses, Praying the Scriptures groups, and other discussion groups in parishes owe their origin and their success to the Grail.
Matt and I became Grail Partners and the Partners' weekends provide the combination of love, laughter and inspiration that we used to find on Family Weeks as young parents.
Matt and I will always be grateful to the Grail for their life-enhancing contribution to our lives.
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