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.
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
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 ...
- Peace and a deep silence of prayer made simple and appealing.
- Fellowship made stronger and laughter more ready than ever (where
even the old jokes sounded new)
- A place to which to bring doubts and scepticism, but where, even
where those reservations remained, it did not matter.
- A place where it seemed overwhelmingly and satisfyingly normal to
be a Christian, an Anglican and to live a life founded in the
sacraments and prayer: where to believe and to practise the faith was
simple and natural ...
Chris Price A.D. 2000
- A place where the unlikely became possible, the flamboyant and
even the absurd were at home with the beauty of the holiness and where
we could all be ourselves for a spell a lovely place and a lovely time,
together for a time out of time with our fellow Christians and, without
a shadow of doubt, with our God.”
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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