Archbishop visit to Blackpool was just too popular

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu on stage at the Light is Darkness mission event held at Blackpool Tower Ballroom.
The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu on stage at the Light is Darkness mission event held at Blackpool Tower Ballroom.
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Hundreds were turned away when a huge crowd flocked to an audience with the Archbishop of York at Blackpool Tower.

The free event, Light in the Darkness, aimed to reach out to non-churchgoers, too, but proved so popular that Tower officials had to turn away coach-loads of visitors in the rain as the charismatic Rt Hon John Sentamu appeared on stage inside.

He had come to talk about his life and journey through faith from his difficult childhood in Uganda to becoming one of the leading Church of England figures in the world.

One of the disappointed churchgoers was Dorothy Bessey, 73, of Cleveleys, who went with other members of Thornton Parish Church .

She said: “There must have been more than 300 people queueing outside for 25 minutes in the rain.

“There were a lot of elderly people standing there and we were worried about them. A young man came out eventually and told us we could not get in. I spoke to the people at the back of the queue and told them. They had come on a coach from Clitheroe and 
another from Skipton. I want to know what the diocese is going to do about it. We all wanted to see the Archbishop, he is such a charismatic speaker, and I think they should organise something else for those who were turned away.”

Kate Shane, manager of the Tower, said they were surprised by the number of people who wanted to attend.

She said: “We had spoken to the organsiers and they had estimated that about 2,000 would want to come.

“We have to bear in mind the health and safety of guests and staff. We did let a few more in but there had to be a limit. It was a free event on a first come first served basis. We are sorry some people did get turned away but let’s hope the diocese organises another event and they can come back.”

A spokesman for The 
Diocese of Blackburn said because it was a mission event they could not make it ticket-only as they were aiming to attract people who would not normally go to the churches.

He said: “We are really sorry that people could not get in to see the Archbishop. We rang round the parishes to see how many people might turn up and we estimated 1,700. We filled the Tower Ballroom, the biggest venue we could get, with 2,000 people and that was great, but we clearly need to get a bigger venue next time.

“On the whole, the event was a great success, we had a superb parade by the Blackpool churches beforehand and people were really engaged with the Archbishop’s message. The Bishop of Blackburn will speak to the churches which missed out to see how we can make amends.”