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Motivated by Christ’s love

16 October 2015

Ted Harrison on a story of holistic care

Receiving her MBE: Pat Pilkington with her husband, Christopher, in a photo from the book

Receiving her MBE: Pat Pilkington with her husband, Christopher, in a photo from the book

The Golden Thread: A quiet revolution in holistic cancer care
Pat Pilkington
Vala £10


THE Bristol Cancer Help Centre has supported hundreds of people facing terminal illness. It does not claim to cure, but instead offers healing in the widest sense. For many years, its pioneering holistic work has been championed and supported by Prince Charles.

The late Pat Pilkington was one of the centre’s co-founders, together with Penny Brohn, from whom the centre now takes its name. The Golden Thread tells the history of the project over 30 years, and charts her own spiritual journey, which both inspired the work and was influenced by it.

Pat and her husband, Christopher, became interested in the Church’s healing ministry through their friendship with a fellow clergy couple, Tim and Mystica Tiley. Mr Tiley told them about a vivid experience that he had had as a boy when he had “died” and visited heaven, only to return to earth with the gift of healing. The book is filled with anecdotes of the extraordinary, of people who see angels, of those who have predicted their deaths, to processions of the saints, out-of-body sensations, and moving deathbed scenes.

The spiritual journey that the author describes, in a book written shortly before her death, tells of her reconciliation of Christian teaching and Anglican tradition with New Age ideas. She sees no contradiction in her understanding of the love of Christ with much New Age mysticism.

She is open-minded about notions of the afterlife which have echoes of Spiritualism. She cites Gnosticism and quotes from the Gospel of Thomas. She blames St Paul for turning the Jesus who brought the good news of transcendence through divine love into the figure of judgement at the heart of a theology of sin, guilt, and damnation.

Her personal shedding of Christian orthodoxy to discover a new depth to her Christian life is one side of the story. The other side concerns the practical struggle that she, Penny Brohn, and their team faced to realise their vision, of pioneering new ways to help those with diagnosed cancer. Pilkington describes both the successes and the setbacks on the way. The most serious was the publication of a medical report, damning their results, which received huge publicity. The later apologies for methodological flaws and retraction received far less media interest.

Today, the centre that Pilkington helped to found has long since recovered its reputation, has largely overcome the suspicions of the medical establishment, and is a world leader in its field.


Ted Harrison is a former BBC religious-affairs correspondent.

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