What do you gain if you are a branch or group member or would you like to start a group?
The cornerstone on which we build, are groups of people who wish to meet fairly regularly to pray together and of course, socialise. Thus, for them the spirit of Pilgrimage, that communal celebration of our faith, continues throughout the year in the homes and parishes of pilgrims as they meet to deepen their devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham and the mystery of the Annunciation and the Incarnation.
Branch or group activities fall into two main categories – spiritual and social/fundraising. These are not two distinct categories as there is an overlap between the two and the format of many branch meetings is usually spiritual then social. A question often asked is how often do Branches meet? There is no set pattern, this depends on local circumstances. Some branches cover a large area and a number of churches, whilst others are based in one Church. The frequency of meetings varies between monthly, bimonthly or quarterly. As well as religious services regular features of meetings are talks, videos and film shows. These include talks on devotion to Our Lady in various forms including Walsingham, Knock, Banneux, Fatima and Ephesus. Talks also draw upon member’s experiences of trips to Rome, the Holy Land and other locations. Branches also enjoy talks from local religious orders and are fully involved in local ecumenical activities. One branch described their meetings as “a mixture of spiritual readings/lecture slides on various topics, quizzes and are very friendly and relaxed.”
Mass or some form of liturgical activity is the starting point of most Walsingham Association meetings wherever possible. The main variation depends on whether a branch or group is based in one parish or encompasses several parishes. When more than one parish is involved Mass will often be on a rota basis around the different churches. Special Masses are arranged throughout the year in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham and many members make a special effort to attend Masses in honour of Our Lady, sometimes arranged on a Diocesan basis. Regional Masses or several Branches attending a special Mass organised by another Branch and Masses for deceased members of the Association also play a prominent part in branch activities.
As befits a Marian organisation the Rosary is an indispensable component of the lives of the Branches. Rosary rallies, processions, rosary rotas, weekly Rosary (sometimes including Benediction). Some branches are responsible for leading the Rosary before or after all weekday Masses in their Churches, also visiting the sick, the housebound and sheltered housing to say the Rosary with those who cannot normally join in communal activities.
Branch days and half days of Recollection or retreats are held all over the country, particularly in preparation for Advent and Lent. Holy Hours and monthly hours with Mary are also arranged. One year an event that particularly caught my eye was a three-day retreat organised by a Branch for those whose responsibilities preclude them making a Retreat under normal circumstances. Each day began after 9 a.m. and finished at 3 p.m., Mass and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was included each day. Various forms of statue rotas are organised – taking Our Lady of Walsingham to different churches or the statue being passed from home to home. One branch listed an event that seemed to encompass all the above activities- based in a town centre church – a Walsingham morning for shoppers. This included the rosary, devotions and Mass. Some Branches arrange Services of Re-dedication to Our Lady. Contact is also maintained with local Anglican cells of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Only a handful of reports do not include an event that is regarded as both spiritual and social – pilgrimage or visits to Walsingham. Members of branches of the Association nearer to Walsingham often make regular trip to Walsingham to help at the Shrine, either the shop or acting as stewards or other volunteer jobs helping pilgrims make the most of their Pilgrimage day.
Social/Fund Raising Events
As with the spiritual activities these have a common core of events. When it comes to food/meal based activities only breakfast does not seem to feature – coffee mornings, cake stalls, lunches, a broth and dumpling lunch, and a steak muffin and chips lunch have been arranged. Also teas, garden parties, cocktail parties, wine and cheese, Mince Pies and Carols evening, Christmas meals and not forgetting that very important part of parish life refreshments after church services are all organised by Branch of the Association.
Social evenings, musical evenings – particularly Gilbert and Sullivan, a party for Our Lady’s birthday, a Dinner dance, concerts, Christmas parties and New Year dinner/dances all play a part in Walsingham Association activities.
On the purely fund raising side of activities there are jumble sales, tabletop sales, bric-a-brac sales. We have not let the newer forms of commercial activity pass us by – Walsingham Association branches are to be seen at flea markets and car boot sales. Branches also run autumn fayres, Charity Sales (involving other local Charities), tombolas and it almost goes without saying – raffles. They also hold beetle drives, whist drives, games nights and arrange bingo sessions. In some parish bingo sessions they play a vital supporting role – selling pens. How can we not mention one of the most painless ways of raising money – jam-jar collections?
Walsingham Association branches are not inward looking – throughout the reports there is the underlying theme of promoting and creating awareness of Our Lady’s Shrine at Walsingham. This is being done quietly by the lives and work of all members by helping others or being available to help others. Examples mentioned include visiting the sick and housebound, helpers for Jumbulances, contacts with local schools and arranging Pilgrimages for the sick and generally arranging transport for pilgrims to Walsingham. Another form of promotion to Our Lady of Walsingham is involvement in large public events. Branch banners are to be seen at Rosary Rallies and other events, there is also branch involvement in Church flower festivals and promoting Walsingham at a Christmas Carol Concert. “The children from our primary school along with the church choir took part. The children opened the concert by entering the hall with a shade and candle lit in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham”. All these activities spread awareness of the significance of Walsingham.
Walsingham is a place of Pilgrimage but the Association does not only come on Pilgrimage to Walsingham, they visit places in these islands and abroad. Rome is the furthest for Branches to visit so far! Very few areas of this country, particularly those with Marian or Recusant connections are not visited by Walsingham Association branches. Examples of day trips which may give you ideas, depending where you are based, first of all there is the Scottish National Shrine at Carfin, also in Scotland – Haddington and one branch in the North East mentioned a day excursion to Jedburgh, Melrose & Traquair. In Wales the Poor Clare’s Convent at Hawarden, Pantasaph, Holywell and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Taper in Cardigan have all been visited. In the South of England and the West Midlands visits have also been made to Canterbury, a Tour of Catholic London, Harvington Hall, Stanbrook Abbey and Prinknash Abbey, near Gloucester have all been mentioned. Branches in the northwest include visits to Fernyhalgh near Preston, to Liverpool, to Glenridding and to Wardley Hall, residence of the Bishop of Salford, and the Shrine of the relic of St. Ambrose Barlow. Also included were Mount Grace, Osmotherley, visits to York and Lindisfarne Island. A place visited by many groups, particularly when on Pilgrimage to Walsingham is Oxburgh Hall. Some groups accompanied by a Priest have arranged Mass in the Chapel, which is still owned by the Bedingfeld family.
Are you interested in forming a group?
Walsingham Association - Guidelines for Groups
If there are a number of members in a locality, they may join together as a group for mutual encouragement and to foster the objectives of the Association. The Membership Secretary in association with the Executive Committee may recognise groups as such.
These groups may arrange meetings, social events and other activities on the Walsingham theme, including publicity for the Shrine and Association, pilgrimages, reunions, fundraising etc. This group need not be large and each group of the Association operates very much according to local circumstances.
They may wish to nominate a person to collect and forward membership details and subscriptions to the Membership Secretary. Any monies preferably should be kept in a nominated bank account and on disbandment be given to the National Association.
A person may also be nominated to receive mail on behalf of the group and distribute it. Communication should be with the Membership Secretary, so that the National Association is aware of the activities of the group.
If possible, a priest or deacon in the area can be asked to support the group, as chaplain or spiritual advisor.
Joint events between various groups and/or branches are to be encouraged, and can be done in an informal manner, by exchange of information between groups. To facilitate this, a list of contact details should be held by the Membership Secretary and made available when needed (with appropriate permission).
If the group intends to disband, notice should be given to the Membership Secretary.