Our Lady of Walsingham

I see it is Our Lady of W’s memorial day today. It brings back mixed emotions. My first trip was with my home parish on an outing and I was asked to serve for Mass by my priest. The nuns in the Sacristy were nun too pleased about me being a women and all that so it was a frosty reception. All I was doing was serving, for heaven’s sake. But, putting aside those feelings of prejudice, we had a wonderful time. I loved the Holy House and remember the candles, the smell of incense, the prayer cards. I found the healing service at the well very moving. And we giggled at the Ascension chapel (two feet hanging from the ceiling!)

My next trip was many years later when I went with two friends (both priests of the female gender) for a post-Easter break. This coincided with the annual retreat from Mirfield and so we were surrounded by handsome young male ordinands swishing about in black cassocks. We were incognito but we did watch one woman priest being shunned by the men and having to sit at a table on her own at dinner. We asked her to join us. She said that she came regularly and was used to being ignored and sometimes overheard rude comments. So, what was to be a spiritual haven of renewal and refreshment became the sour taste of bitter prejudice.

My last visit was on the Annual Scottish Pilgrimage two years ago. I was persuaded to go by the organisers and thought that things were bound to have changed. I knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to do anything in my priestly role but was assured that things were changing. I was even allowed to stay in the Clergy rooms, much to the horror of the Secretary to Forward in Faith in Scotland who was one of our party. Walsingham go in for concelebration in a big way. So hardly a Eucharist went by without all my friends and colleagues being up there at the altar in all their laciest finery while I sat at the back hurting. (I believe that some male priests refuse to take part in these concelebrations until women are welcomed too.) My friends did ask me to take part in reading some of the Stations of the Cross but that caused bitterness with some of the group. Just for reading out words in a book!

So, you can see why I feel ambivalent about Our Lady of Walsingham. Is this what the Lady Richeldis foresaw when she had her vision of building Our Lady’s house at Nazareth in England’s fair land? For me now it is a place of division and prejudice, of alienation and unGodliness. So my prayer today is that Walsingham will be transformed into a Shrine of healing and wholeness for ALL.

30 thoughts on “Our Lady of Walsingham

  1. Such transformation would be welcome but I fear will require some further miracle. Walsingham does no favours for anyone of an inclusive frame of theology and is unlikely to change of its own volition.

  2. Ruth,

    Mad Priest seems to think that all the men in your painful story were gay, though I don’t read this piece to say that it was only gay men who were alienating you. If by using the word “swishing” in this context you mean to say “Gay,” well, that in itself is hurtful to some of us. Still, misogyny is repulsive no matter who the perpetrators are, and doubly so when the offenders are themselves gay men who should know better. After all, most authorities agree that misogyny and homophobia are two sides of the same pathology, and thus the hostility displayed by these individuals is an ugly symptom of their own self-loathing, a brokenness badly in need of healing, for which we should also pray without ceasing.

  3. QueerforChrist, MadPriest is partly right. Many were gay. And I was not being derogatory when I used the word ‘swishing’. They all swished – gay and straight alike.

    You are right when you say that mysogyny is doubly repulsive when it is perpetrated by gay folk. I am more than happy to pray for wholeness, and I campaign daily for an inclusive church. I just don’t like the ‘inclusive’ they want cos it doesn’t include me, it would seem.

  4. Shame on them, then, I say. As the bumper stickers say, “No one is free when others are oppressed.” How you managed to sit there while all the boys concelebrated that Eucharist is a testament to your self-restraint. I know some American revgals who would have acted with less discretion indeed. Still, many kudos from over here, Ruth. Preach on, sister.

  5. Self-restraint, my ass! I just wept. And a gay friend put his arm around my shoulder and said, “There, there – you’re just as good as them.” He cried too.

  6. (((RevRuth))) Stupid asshats, with their asshattery.

    I’d rather receive the Eucharist from an atheist than that condescending lot. It would be more meaningful. Feh.

  7. While I have hated the sting of exclusion, it has made me radically inclusive, and I needed that. However, that does not make the sting less when experienced.

    Peace of Christ

  8. The curious thing is that other orders of the Society of St Margaret are very inclusive indeed. I keep hoping that ways of the other houses will hold sway over Walsingham, but I fear the steady stream of pilgrims encourages them to dig their heels in.

    I’m delighted with the thougt of you breaking into the inner sanctum while FinF watched in horror. Were clergy wives allowed in the part of the house, or were you disturbing the boys’ club?

  9. Maybe this is some sort of UK clerical subculture, bred of the closet? They sound as if they are stuck back in the 1950s, both the gay ones and the straight ones. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

    My sympathies for you – and for the rude fossils.

  10. Of course, not all Mirfield ordinands were either gay or hostile to women at the altar. Many of us pray for that time when I can concelebrate with all priests in the Anglican Communion. The only way to change it is from the inside: witness the number of SCP members at the youth pilgrimage. It will happen, with determination and the intercession of Our Lady. Fr. S SCP

  11. Kimberly, I don’t know if wives were allowed in the Clergy accommodation. Suspect not, but maybe Fr Simon knows? Anyhoo when I was there twas only me and the boys. I was even invited to the Boss’ sherry party there. But nobody spoke to me so I sat nursing a sweet sherry wondering why I wasn’t down the pub with the others!

  12. Fr Simon, I thought you might join in – and welcome. You are quite right – you were one of the good guys. But there were also some who were okay about women but didn’t feel they could say that aloud then. Nor did they every fraternise at Walsingham in my experience. But that was a few years ago and now Mirfield have women ordinands so change does happen.

    And I am not just blaming Mirfield here. That was one occasion. There were other clergy who were pretty frosty and I have no idea where they trained.

  13. Ruth I feel badly about this. It hurts, of course, every time one encounters such behavior.

    I do feel though, that in my experience there are some very decent priests at Walsingham and such generalisation can be hurtful to them as well. Like gay Christians who struggle to be accepted, women in the priesthood go on struggling with this. I pray in time the atmosphere there will become more fully accepting.

  14. I know someone connected with Walsingham, slightly. When the CoE was deciding for or against women priests, he instructed his then congregation to pray that the vote went “against”. When the vote was “for”, he told them they hadn’t prayed hard enough. Didn’t seem to occur to him it just might be God’s will….

  15. Davis, I was trying not to generalise. I was just stating what my experience was on 3 occasions. And the Chaplain (? can’t remember his official title) told me that if they changed thier views on women priests then they would lose a lot of their business. So I won’t go back until that day.

  16. Pingback: O happy day? « Out West

  17. I found all this very interesting and very one sided. The rant of M/s Ruth seems to ignore the hurt that she and her “ordained” friends have done to the English Church.As an Anglican priest I am expected to be polite to the priestess but she can be as rude and nasty as she likes to me. And I have experienced this at Walsingham. They see Walsingham as the last bastion that they must break into and are doing all they pushing well can to achieve this.

  18. Hi there,

    I have recently been contemplating a pilgrimage to Walsingham, but after reading this, I’m am re-considering. I didn’t know the shrine and its related members (etc) were so (seemingly majority) aligned with the anti-female clergy stance. Pity.

    Even though it’s a bit outdated now, thanks for writing this.


  19. Is this what the Lady Richeldis foresaw when she had her vision of building Our Lady’s house at Nazareth in England’s fair land?

    What an odd question. Do you really think that a devout Catholic woman living in the 11th century would have been upset about one group of future heretics excluding another group of heretics from engaging as soi-disant ministers?

  20. With all due respect, I am an objector to the ordination of women, and I would like to say that the stigma and difficulty is not all on one side. I cannot in all integrity receive the sacraments from a female priest – and I am an Anglo-Catholic and my worship centres entirely around the Eucharist. As a result, I cannot belong, cannot be involved in anything properly outside the Forwards-in-Faith movement. There a very few religious houses I can go to on retreat, very few places where I can feel comfortable or secure without expecting to be excluded sooner or later by the presence of female celebrants (places such as university chapels, for example, to which I would otherwise naturally belong), and as I am both disabled and often ill, I cannot travel freely. Those of us who hold these views have very little refuge, and that we still have is all under serious threat, and we are also generally regarded as intruders who are not really part of the Church of England any more – very little effort is made for provision, though simple acceptance that there are people who think thus would prevent much of the exclusion we suffer. Nearly from the Church itself, not from any particular office within it – which is surely a worse fate.

    I would appeal to your compassion when you are unable to concelebrate at places like Walshingham. By not taking part you are allowing many people like me still to belong to the Church and still to have access to worship and such growth in grace as that aids. If you think it weakness and error on our part, have pity on that and wait for us rather than excluding us. As we are forced, for our own part, to struggle to deal with the general acceptance of the Church of something many of us believe inherently impossible without losing faith or hope or doing serious wrong to those who disagree with us. Do not, for the sake of those things that we still mutually seek, destroy your brothers and sisters with your meat, whatever you may think is wrong with their scruples.

    As it is probably relevant to this issue: I am a young woman in my early twenties, have just left university after studying philosophy, and intend to carry on my studies in Christian theology.

  21. Merlina, thank you for responding. I do understand your predicament for I too was against the ordination of women and an anglo-catholic. What, then, was I supposed to do when God called me? I have a good friend who often campaigned against the ordination of women all those years ago. he often was asked to speak on radio when the debate was at its height. When the vote went through he very generously gave his Missal to the first woman to be ordained, saying that as he was an Episcopalian he had to accept that the vote of synod was the way forward. If he didn’t believe that Synod had that power, then he wouldn’t be an Episcopalian. He would be a Roman Catholic. he now attends a church where the priest is a woman and is one of my greatest supporters.

    When God calls you to ordained ministry it is a very testing time, in many ways. I fought it every inch of the way but still God got his way. Our Lady’s ‘yes’ to God has always been my guide.

  22. Please leave Walsingham in peace. Walsingham has such a wonderful sense of His presence why – is it because God moves freely in such a beautiful place. Women keep pushing and pushing until they think Walsingham will give in -never. I am a female and I am entitled to my opinion. I will never accept females within the Church of England in their so called role of priests. Leave Walsingham in peace not pieces.

    • Thank you Marilyn for your comments. I wasn’t under the impression I had left it in pieces.

      I am a female too and also entitled to my opinions. Funny that.

  23. I went to Walsingham to the National Pilgrimage yesterday. My first time to Walsingham. I was invited by a more seasoned friend who happens to be a practical and accepting but personally in the nay camp on Episcopal and Priestly women. I respect that: personal choice. It’s no big deal.

    I felt it was just strange without women serving anywhere. Not concelebrating , okay well I can understand. We can probably manage to accommodate each other on this one, practical lot that we are. But no Servers, no Deacons, no Deacons (who are also Priests but acting non-sacramentally so hey)? It just felt weird, spiritually weird. Felt rather bereft. Something just didn’t feel right. Like when you try to dance and try too hard and lose the flow of the music.

    Are all women really so scary, so inconsistent, they might wreck the shrine? Really?

    Seemed to be some pretty decent ordained women there too.

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