Ian marks retirement with half marathon

Published on: 09 Oct 2015

Many people look forward to putting their feet up in retirement – but not the Rev Ian Wills.
He marked the end of more than 30 years in Church of England minister by tackling the Severn Bridge Half Marathon.
Ian, 66, the vicar of St Stephen’s Church in Soundwell, completed the 13-mile challenge in less than two and a half hours – despite the fact he has not competed over the distance for 30 years.
“I have been running fairly constantly all my adult life, but in recent years it has usually just been two or three miles at a time,” he said. “ I ran the full Kingswood Festival Marathon, which started and finished at Page Park, in 1985. It was two laps of a course around the borough of Kingswood. A year later I ran one lap, which was a half marathon.
“Last year, I heard about the first Severn Bridge Half Marathon and I had the idea that I would run it in 2015 and ask for sponsors. I was thrilled to finish in 2hr 29 mins and 05 secs! The money I raise will help pay for the upkeep of the church  after I’ve gone and will be my parting gift to the church community here.”
The Severn Bridge route particularly appealed to Ian, who was born in Almondsbury, watched the suspension bridge being built during his teenage years, and has lived within close view of it almost all his  life. The half marathon starts in Chepstow, crosses what is now known as the old Severn Bridge into England then goes around the lanes of Elberton, Littleton upon Severn and Kington before returning on the closed motorway across the bridge to the start point.
The route includes Mumbleys Hill, which Ian recalls he and his friends used to dare one another to cycle down without touching their brakes. His 97-year-old mother’s memories go further back still: as a child she and her siblings were told to get out and walk because it was too steep for the pony and trap.
“When my brothers and I were very young, if she couldn’t get us to sleep, she would put us all in the big old pram and walk the three miles from Almondsbury to New Passage. If the dog got tired, she’d put the dog in as well. She always said the Severn air sent us to sleep.
“We later moved to Alveston and when I was 11 or 12 I used to explore the lanes around the Severn village on my bike. We watched the bridge being built. My friends and I used to cycle to Aust services for a coffee.
“I have pedalled across it, walked across it, been on it with my children, watched the sun come up at dawn at it – the bridge has always been there in the background. It is a part of my history.”
Ian has been at St Stephen’s for 16 years and was previously vicar of St Thomas a Becket in Pucklechurch and St James in Abson for 13 years. He worked as a hospital engineer in Bristol and Middlesex before leaving in 1976 to train for ministry. He was ordained in 1980  and had two placements as a curate before moving to Pucklechurch, where he also served as chaplain to the remand centre for a decade. He has also been a long-serving school governor and chair of governors, first at Pucklechurch Primary and then at St Stephen’s Junior School.
Ian has a lifelong passion for playing electric guitar and says one of the highlights of his career was at St Augustine’s in Whitchurch where he helped the youth group stage a production that ran for a week at the Little Theatre in Bristol. He has played in various rock groups at his churches and while at St Stephen’s has written and performed three rock communions, which are all available on CD.
In the Diocese of Bristol, Ian served for many years as chair of the Bishop’s advisory group on healing ministry.
He had bowel cancer five years ago and underwent five months of chemotherapy but made a full recovery.
He and his wife Helen, who between them have four children and four grandchildren, also enjoy long distance walking and have walked the Ridgeway Path, the south  half of Offa’s Dyke and 65 miles of the Thames Path.
More walking is part of his retirement plan, as well as running, reading, and listening to music as well as performing it.
Ian’s legacy at Pucklechurch includes a stained glass window commissioned for the Millennium and at St Stephen’s he leaves a church that regularly welcomes 130 adults to its main Sunday morning service and also runs an all age service on Sunday afternoons.
Ian’s official  retirement date is September 30 and the milestone is being marked at an evening service on September 27 at 6.30pm.
* You can sponsor Ian by typing his name into the Make a Donation box on the VirginMoney Giving web page.

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