Words about Walsingham
the Shrine and the Concert for the Appeal

The text of Fr Neil Kelley's article in the wake of the Gala Concert held at St Faith's on May 20th, 2006, which raised £2,000 for the Walsingham Appeal.

To read more about the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Appeal, and our church's links with this holy place, follow THIS LINK.

Why Walsingham? Why Not?

Archbishop William Temple once said, ‘The Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of those who are not (yet) its members.’

That belief certainly underpins the parochial system of the Church of England where, at S. Mary’s and S. Faith’s for example, the congregation forms only some 1.87% of the total number of people the Vicar could potentially minister to at any one time. Indeed a great deal of the working week for any Incumbent is spent (or should be spent) dealing with those who don’t come to church on a regular basis but nonetheless require the ministry of the church for whatever reason. They (non church-goers) don’t necessarily have access to the automatic support of a church family as many of us do. Very often when someone at S. Faith’s has been bereaved, or been seriously ill, the first thing they do is to thank the members of the “church family” who have looked after them. Many people bear their sufferings, loneliness and anxiety on their own, without that inbuilt support network which the church family, at its very best, offers.

It is perhaps with something of that sentiment in mind that the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham meets not only the needs of regular paid-up Christians but many more people beyond. People of very deep faith, wavering faith, or no faith at all, find at Walsingham a peace and tranquility which is rarely found in their own homes or workplaces, and dare I say, even in their own churches! No wonder then that in 2003 Walsingham was voted the nation’s most favourite spiritual place.

We live in a society obsessed with paper work and figures – and the church is no different. Forms come to us regularly asking attendances for this or that in an attempt to see where the church is (or isn’t) moving. We can so easily fall into the trap of thinking that growth simply means more numbers on a piece of paper or more people in church. Rarely do we talk of the importance of spiritual growth; it is difficult to quantify. But it is important. If we are not growing spiritually we are not moving in our relationship with God or living a faith which is dynamic and life-changing. A faith which is stuck in a rut is not a faith to commend to others!

Walsingham provides “safe space” or “sanctuary” where talk about God and/or prayer is a most natural way of conversation (when did you last talk about prayer to someone in church or in your own family?). Walsingham provides a setting where no prayer is too trivial or unheard.

For that reason I am so pleased that the concert we held for the Walsingham Appeal was such a great success. The presence of the Archbishop of York certainly gave the event a high profile. I said to the Archbishop at the reception how grateful we were that he could find time in his busy diary to be with us. He said in reply: “But I had to come. The work of Walsingham is so very important”. And he meant it! The support for the Walsingham Appeal from so many different traditions of church backgrounds demonstrates clearly that the power of a place like Walsingham very much transcends human boundaries of churchmanship! A lesson for us all to learn.

Walsingham, for me at any rate, is wonderfully summed up in the article written by Chris Price back in 2000 when St. Faith’s made its first parish pilgrimage. And it’s not just me who thinks that! Chris Price’s article can be found on the Walsingham Website under the heading “Why pilgrimage?” Chris says this:

“48 hours of rich and varied experiences. Worship in forms familiar and strange. Fellowship in the refectory queue and around the bars of the welcoming village hostelries. A fascinating mixture of prayerful devotion and shared laughter, not all of it always entirely reverent. The mysteries of the rosary... for many a focus of prayer, for others, even by the end, about forty Hail Marys too many. The intense and wondrous silence of the Holy House, bedecked with blue and gold and a myriad of burning lights, the most moving of backgrounds to a parish at worship and in intercessory prayer. A singularly moving and spectacular Procession of Our Lady around the dark grounds, by candle-light and to the enthusiastic accompaniment of a hymn with more verses (and certainly more Ave Marias) than you could shake a stick at, and punctuated by dubious descants and just a little departure from devotion in places. A visit to the Roman Catholic Shrine (the Slipper Chapel down the road), and moving words in their official handbook commending a visit to 'our' Shrine and 'our' Parish Church and asking for prayers for the Anglican Diocese and its priests and people: how far and wonderfully we have come in recent years! Conversations in corridors, coffee brewed in little rooms, bonding between people who may scarcely have spoken to one another before. No sense (at least not for long) of anything alien or frightening ... and no pressure to accept anything you weren't happy about, nor to feel left out if you chose to snooze or stroll rather than join in things.

“Parish Mass in the Parish Church in the village, packed with pilgrims and locals: a building gloriously light and airy, with acres of clear grass, after the intense and sometimes stifling weight of the shrine church. Strolling back after coffee at the back of that church through sunny, still streets lined with flint-set, pantiled-roofed cottages.

“Drinks outside the Bull in God's providential lunchtime sunshine. The transporting experience of going down into the well in the shrine in a new baptism for the blessing of pure, cold water in the mouth, on the forehead and splashing over the hands.

“And, on the road home abiding memories of ...
Chris Price  A.D. 2000

We beseech thee, O Lord,
pour thy grace into our hearts;
that, as we have known the incarnation
of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel,
so by his cross and passion
we may be brought unto the glory of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


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