Malcolm Kemp
Some individual and personal reflections by a pilgrim Eastertide 2009 I bought and read Colin Stephenson’s Merrily on High in 1972 before I ever went to Walsingham but I didn’t buy Walsingham Way until 1978, after I had started going there. To me, the best part of all is the Earl of Lauderdale’s preface to Walsingham Way where he outlines the effect the Shrine had had on some individual visitors. I felt it might be of passing interest to people in years to come to know what Walsingham meant to individual pilgrims in the last quarter of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. I am sure that many others will have experiences similar to mine but perhaps they won’t commit them to paper. My first encounter with Anglo-Catholicism in all its unreformed, old-fashioned splendour was on Christmas Eve 1961, just eight weeks before my fourteenth birthday and, like so many others, I was immediately hooked on the whole package. Within a few weeks I was a server at one of the most extreme churches in Brighton (demolished, sadly, in 1967) and very quickly I joined the CBS and Society of Mary (some years later I became a life member of the SOM and am now a life member of both). So it is perhaps surprising that my first visit to Walsingham was not until I went with a party from St Barnabas, Hove (led by Fr Stanley Horsey) to the National in 1974. As an aside, I have always felt that the National shows Walsingham at its worst and I always encourage others to pay their first visit at another time when it is quieter. Living in the parish, although it has never been 'my church', I often used to go to weekday Low Masses at St Martin’s Brighton and, for some years from the late 1970s, I went on their parish pilgrimage at the end of July. There were a lot of younger families involved in this and we were encouraged to pray/worship hard and also enjoy ourselves in a social context – usually in The Bull. This was at the beginning of Fr Beau Brandie’s long sojourn as Team Rector when he was full of youthful energy, and in those days he always took a large number of young people to Walsingham. At least one is still heavily involved with stewarding at the National, thirty years later. He taught them the true meaning of pilgrimage, combining the serious and fun sides in equal measure and, in that, I for one can see the seeds of the more recent highly successful youth pilgrimages. It was said that the residents of Walsingham always knew when Fr Beau was there with an army of 'Yoof' from Brighton because they woke up in the morning to find their village covered in large quantities of shaving foam. I suspect that nobody really minded. top of page Great crowds of people have never particularly attracted me and from the autumn of 1991 onwards I have gone each year for a long weekend with a friend, a retired headmaster. We have stayed in excellent bed & breakfast accommodation in the centre of the village, done what we felt was right for us, and also had a good time going out for evening meals in places along the north Norfolk coast and visiting local National Trust and similar properties. We have also enjoyed meeting and talking to people in Walsingham itself. As the years have passed and we have got older we have felt less inclined to go dashing all over Norfolk and spent more time quietly in the area of the village itself. Over a period of some years I came to realise that Walsingham was the only place where I could be truly happy and relaxed and where I could be totally myself. Since 1967, except for a couple of short gaps, I have been a church organist/director of music and I have always greatly appreciated being able to forget about that - and certainly never tell anyone at the Shrine about it - when on pilgrimage. Doing a job where one is part of the stage management/production side of liturgy (for want of a better term) I have greatly valued the opportunity to be anonymous and just one of the crowd. When, on occasions, I have been told to think of a place where I am truly happy I have always thought instantly of Walsingham. It is a source of great joy to me to see how young people now flock to Walsingham in ever increasing numbers and it is also a great joy to see how Walsingham has become more accessible to a far wider spectrum of the Church of England without in any way compromising what it stands for. Another aspect of Walsingham that I value greatly is the Sunday afternoon Healing Service with water from the well, laying on of hands and anointing. To me this is Walsingham at its best and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. On some occasions I have been so overcome with the service that I’ve had to go and sit on my own, quietly, in the garden for a while afterwards. I remember particularly two sermons from these services which have left a lasting mark on me. Fr Christopher Colven preached about a little girl in the Wakefield area who had been seriously injured in a road accident and who recovered after being prayed for at the Shrine. As I remember it, she had never even heard of Walsingham, let alone been there and on waking from her coma her first words to her parents were “I’ve just been to a place called Walsingham”. Fr Philip North explained the difference between a small child falling over hurting its knee, which quickly healed, and an older person for whom healing meant moving on to the next phase; it was this above all else that convinced me that he was 'a good thing'. I shall always remember and be most grateful for those two sermons. (The healing service would, to me, be even better if there was no canned music played in the background; we need silence!) Inevitably, there have been years when I have not felt so moved as others and there were a couple of years when I felt I was just going through the motions and not getting very much from it. These came just prior to 2006 when circumstances dictated that, for the first – and until now the only - time, I went for the annual long weekend one my own, by public transport. I had some apprehension about how this would work out as I am not by nature the most sociable person (in the event, this proved to be very much a false worry) but I did find myself with more time to devote to the spiritual side of things. In many ways this proved to be a turning point. Sitting in the Holy House immediately after a very early lunch on the Sunday I got the distinct impression that Our Lady was saying to me "For goodness sake be quiet, I’ve heard what you’ve got to say, so just shut up, listen, and let me get on with it for you". Wow! I went and sat in the main Shrine Church for the next hour or so until the Healing Service. Sitting facing the Blessed Sacrament chapel, all sorts of unresolved things from my past came to mind and suddenly had to be dealt with - quite a number of them relating to my late mother. The longer I sat there the more things, especially from many years ago, came to mind and I knew that dealing with all these was a vital part of the healing process. The 2.30 pm service was one of the most beautiful and moving services of any kind that I have ever been to. Afterwards I went back into the Holy House and told Mary I didn’t think I could cope with dealing with everything that had come to mind that afternoon. Again, She gently scolded me "Yes you can because I am helping you and praying for you. It will happen and it will all be all right". Since that Sunday afternoon encounter with Mary in the Holy House and her Son in the Tabernacle I have received graces, blessing and healing in all sorts of ways that I had never thought possible. A month later it was the celebration for the 75th Anniversary of the Translation in 1931 and I went back for the day with another friend, despite my not liking large crowds. I knew it would not be a day for sitting quietly in the Holy House, or anywhere else for that matter, but my purpose in going was to say "Thank you". When, during Benediction at the new CBS altar in the garden, I had very negative thoughts about my late mother I was able to think "Yes, I know, that’s history and I dealt with all that very effectively over there in the Shrine Church last month, It has been dealt with, reconciled and is now in the past. I have moved on". Since then I have made a point each year of spending a lot of time in absolute silence in the Shrine Church and Holy House during the hours leading up to the Healing Service. And I mean silence – listening and letting God and his Mother talk to me without interruption. So where do we go from here? In October 2031 – the centenary of the day when Hope Patten first took the Image from the Parish Church, through the streets to the newly built Holy House, I shall be 83 if I live that long. If I am still around and able to do so, I know exactly where I intend to be at that time. After that, I suspect that nothing much else will bother me. top of page