Friends of Walsingham Occasional Paper
Letter from the Revd The Administrator
My dear Friends
I cannot tell you how thrilled I am at your increasing numbers and the fact that the work at Walsingham is being backed up by such a large body of well-wishers. It is often asked why, when there is a flourishing Society of Our Lady of Walsingham, it was thought desirable to have “Friends” as well; and that is quite easily answered because membership of the Society involves spiritual obligations, slight it is true, but nevertheless not to be undertaken “lightly, unadvisedly or wantonly,” as the BCP says. The “Friends” on the other hand, simply express their interest in and approval of the work and need not even be members of the Church. There is so much you can do for Walsingham apart from your welcome financial support. One of the great needs is to let the Shrine and what it stands for and what it has to give to be known as widely as possible. I have been astonished since it was announced that I was to be Administrator at the number of my personal friends, many of them faithful and instructed Church people who have said to me “What exactly is Walsingham?” Someone even said “Isn’t it a sort of Lee Abbey where one takes the water?” There has been an enormous amount done in the way of propaganda, but it is surprising how long it takes for the penny to drop. Now there are many ways of getting something across to the public and all sorts of publicity techniques have been developed, but nothing really is so powerful as the personal contact – hearing about whatever it is from someone who has experienced it. This is where I think the “Friends” can live up to their name and take the many chances of social life to see that people in their circle know about Walsingham. There are one or two admirable leaflets which the Secretary will gladly send you for distribution and which you can give to those whose interest you have aroused. Also when you come across those in trouble who need help I wonder if you ever say to them “Why don’t you go on a pilgrimage?” – “Why not send a petition to the Shrine of Walsingham, you only have to write your need on a post card and send it to the Shrine Office?” This is what a place of pilgrimage is for and this ministry to the sick and troubled is a very important part of the work. Every evening at Shrine prayers a whole load of human suffering and agony is poured out at the feet of Our Lady and the power of her prayers is a mighty force. Many find great strength and comfort from the fact that candles which they have bespoken are burning for their intentions in the Shrine, and many people turn towards the Holy House in spirit and get help and peace. Walsingham has a message and a lot to give and it is a solemn trust that we see that as many people as possible get it.
You will find that there is much prejudice as well as ignorance to overcome. I am told that someone asking at Inter-Church Travel why, when they arrange visits to all sorts of holy places in England, they did not include Walsingham was told “Oh, Walsingham is a stunt.” !! It is rather sad that something like Inter-Church Travel, which should be a great and helpful thing, should be in hands of so unimaginative and unspiritual, but they must represent a point of view which “Friends of Walsingham,” by plugging the truth, can overcome. [Fr Stephenson apologised for this remark in the next issue of the paper.] I am sure that we have a great evangelistic task at Walsingham and I hope to be able to use it to the full. I am going to ask those who stay at Walsingham to give some of their time to act as Stewards and Guides to casual visitors and by their friendliness and charity to try and win them for our holy religion. There will be an Information Centre in the Gardens which will be stocked with simple Christian propaganda as well as information about the Shrine and I hope we may be able to put interested visitors in touch with their local parish priest and so bring them into the Church as active members. A more mundane task is that we want ladies who are useful with their needle each to make a kneeler for the Shrine. My idea is to have a simple basic pattern such as an M crowned and then each person can work into the background any symbols appropriate to themselves, so that each one will be an individual thing. I shall soon have details of the materials and cost of each kneeler and I think this should be fun as well as a valuable amenity for the Shrine. It need not be confined to ladies as I myself intend to make one and I know there are lots of other men who are keen embroiderers and I am sure we can give the opposite sex a good run for their money. Again on the material side I would like to let you in on a little plan of mine. There is in the wall of the precincts of Knight Street a tiny shop which at the moment is in bad repair but I want to have it put in order and opened as “Our Lady’s Trinket Box” selling jewellery and china and small antiques rather like the Famine Relief Shops. I think the Friends could easily stock it and so would you look through your jewel case and cupboards and when you come to Walsingham bring a gift for “Our Lady’s Trinket Box” and have it sold to help support the Shrine.
I have let
you into some of my hopes and plans for the future and when I move in,
appropriately enough on April 1st, I look forward to seeing a constant
stream of Friends. In the Church that I have served at Oxford there is
a Shrine of Our Lady where she is venerated under the title of “Our
Lady of Joy” and I want more than anything else to bring something
of the spirit of that title to Walsingham with me and I hope you will
find the Shrine always a place of joy and a place of supernatural charity
where we can minister the Love of God to those who come hungry for care
and affection. It is a great and thrilling work to which God is calling
you and me and every one of us counts.
It is quite remarkable how Walsingham always comes to life again on Holy Saturday. We see few visitors during the winter, apart from Christmas itself, but the village teems with people on Easter Eve and there is a noticeable spirit of joy in the air. January seemed a never-ending month to some of us this year and Lent always does seem interminable, so the early Easter was more than welcome and in spite of the fear that flowers would be scarce we were able to make the churches look quite lovely.
Joy is in the air again at the Shrine. Our new Administrator arrived on Easter Tuesday in a handsome blue and grey hold-all (I believe it is called a dormobile) which will doubtless prove very useful here. His furniture came the following day and a bevy of helpers, some of whom had been brought along from Oxford, assisted the removal men in carrying his goods and chattels to various parts of the College building, though this often ended in their being dumped on the lawn till a suitable place could be found. Leaving a lively University city has been a great wrench for Fr Stephenson, and we hope that, as he has loved Walsingham as a visitor, so he will continue to love it as a resident and that he will soon feel at home amongst these old cottages which were so charmingly reconstructed by Fr Patten.
But he was not the only one to feel homesick. With him are Dyke and Faggot, just beginning to settle down now that the old familiar smells of furniture and carpets are around them again, but thoroughly bewildered and miserable their first evening. We welcome them too, but – we love our birds and hope they won’t all be eaten! Dyke and Faggot are Siamese cats.
Fr Harbottle, who was in charge of these parishes from August till February, has now been instituted as Rector of Kedington in Suffolk, where we hope he will be very happy, and get really fit again. This living is in the gift of the Guardians and the church is a most interesting building containing a three-decker pulpit with wig-stand and family pews.
Soon alas, there will be another farewell. Fr John Shepherd is leaving in May to be assistant priest at St John’s, Balham, and to widen his experience. He has had a great burden on his shoulders since Fr Patten’s death, as not only has he been in charge of the Shrine but, since the beginning of February, in charge of these three parishes as well – no mean task for a young priest, especially during Holy Week. He has carried on valiantly, and we are all proud of him and hope it won’t be too long before he returns here to work for the Shrine again.
Fr Alan Roe, from Newbury, is being inducted at St Mary’s [Walsingham] on April 19th.