Pedal-powered parish-to-parish pilgrimage

Cycling Somerset rector the Rev Phil Denison has hit the road in a bid to bike to each and every one of the 35 churches that make up the Ilminster deanery in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, in four rides of around four hours each on four successive days.

Starting on Monday 13 July and pedalling around 45 miles a day, Phil hopes to raise £3,000 to support CMS mission partner Anne Plested, who works at Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank.

Support Phil’s ‘Deanery Dash’


“Anne is well known to us here as a member of the team,” says Phil (Anne was a church administrator and deanery secretary). “Because of the current circumstances she’s able to join us for online services. In a way we keep in touch more than we ever have!”

Because of the value he puts on Anne’s ministry, Phil decided he wanted to do something to help.

“With churches and charities struggling to meet their financial commitments in the current challenge of Covid-19, CMS is being stretched to meet the costs of people like Anne,” he explains.

“Anne is a bridge-builder – there’s enough fighting and enmity and misunderstanding in the world. It’s about being there, being a witness, having conversations and hearing the stories. It’s really good to have somebody who has a deep faith and a deep spirituality – it’s just so important that she’s there, as much for who she is as what she does.”

Phil is no stranger to fitness fundraising, having run the London marathon and cycled from London to Paris for different charities in the early 2000s. But he felt the need for a new challenge after months of coronavirus restrictions.

“I started lockdown in a fit of glory in terms of exercise,” he says. “That’s tailed off as I work more and it seemed a good idea to have something that enabled me to exercise.”

The ‘Denison Deanery Dash’ sees 65-year-old Phil become the latest
clergyperson to take up the CMS fundraising mantle, following Canon John
Harwood completing his 94 walks for 94 years.

He estimates each day’s ride will take about four hours and cover approximately 45 miles. “And yes, it is a battery-assisted bike,” he freely admits.

“People always have the same reaction – they say ‘Well, that’s cheating!’ It does give you some help but it doesn’t do the work for you – you have to put in as much effort as you get help from the battery.”

Phil’s trusty folding battery bike has previously accompanied him to a number of Celtic pilgrimage sites around the British Isles during a sabbatical he took a few years back.

There’s a pilgrimage aspect to this fundraising ride too – as Phil visits all of the places of worship in Ilminster deanery, including one parish just over the Somerset border in Dorset.

Among the destinations are all eight parishes in the Isle Valley benefice, of which Phil is rector, including Hambridge, where Anne’s family used to run the local post office.

Phil explains that the deanery has become more important during the pandemic. “In lockdown we’ve all had to struggle together to explore online means of communication – that’s been something we’ve had in common. We’re all a bit more aware of each other’s situations now.”

The local connection with Anne means the same is true for churchgoer’s awareness of the situation for Christians in the West Bank too.

Phil had hoped to be visiting the Holy Land himself this autumn but the trip has inevitably had to be postponed.

Here’s hoping some fundraising success on his rather more local pedal-powered pilgrimage will go some way to making up for the disappointment.

To support Phil’s fabulous fundraising effort and help Anne continue her ministry in Bethlehem, please use the donation box above.

Published 13 July 2020
Europe, Middle East and North Africa

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