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Open Week 2013 at the  Arthur Findlay College   Sue Farrow reports on five days of sunshine and showers, well-attended lectures and an outstanding demonstration of mediumship.

I’ve always enjoyed reporting on AFC’s Open Week and it was a particular pleasure to be back there between 4th and 8th May this year. I’m told that an estimated 2000 people passed through the College doors during this 2013 event.

The programme was certainly varied. Not only were the traditional demonstrations of mediumship available in abundance, but other arts, not specific to Spiritualism, were on the menu, among them dream interpretation, numerology and colour.

Numerous tutors were on parade to demonstrate and lecture, including (in alphabetical order) Tim Abbott, Sandie Baker, Sally Barnes, Colin Bates, Leah Bond, Lynn Cottrell, Eamon Downey, Chris Drew, Margaret Falconer, Julie Grist, Sandy Haggar, Sharon Harvey, Penny Hayward, John Johnson, Simone Key, Jan Marshall, Angie Morris, Maureen Murnan, Lynn Parker, Judith Seaman, Matthew Smith, Bill Thomson, Stella Upton, Steven Upton, Val Williams, Su Wood and Kitty Woud.

Lillian Steiner-Iten
    Lillian Steiner-Iten

General manager Tanya Smith, who has without doubt brought new warmth and vitality to AFC, told me she was particularly pleased to see increased attendance at lectures, as opposed to the ever-popular demonstrations of mediumship.

Alas, time did not allow me to witness anything like all the many demonstrations of various kinds of mediumship on offer during the week, but one of those I attended was so outstanding as to warrant detailed coverage. It was given by British medium Jackie Wright, widely respected for the evidential detail she’s able to convey, and New Zealand-born but Switzerland-based Lillian Steiner-Iten, a breath of fresh air in the Stansted team.

Time and again I sit through demonstrations and wonder exactly why (and what) the demonstrators are demonstrating. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s honest. When are mediums going to realise that “I love you”, “I’m proud of you” or “I’m always with you” are not evidence of survival? They mean well, undoubtedly, and do their best, but at the end of the day they lack that essential spark of talent that distinguishes a natural-born medium from the rest. Not everyone can be a concert pianist. Not everyone can be an athlete. Not everyone can be a medium.

Lillian, as they say, has “got it”. The gift. The inborn ability. Honed through practice and dedication no doubt, but clearly within her. She and Jackie (who has also undoubtedly “got it”) delivered their respective communications in very different styles, Jackie cajoling with gentle humour and refusing at one point to accept a recipient’s “I’m not sure”; Lillian equally confident with her information but more inclined to await and accept her recipient’s response before proceeding with the next item of evidence.

Lillian was first to demonstrate, having been introduced by the chairman, Minister Kathryn Grundy, who was shortly to receive a surprise...
Lillian’s first two contacts contained specific information – names, dates, places, causes of passing, horses, jockeys, grooms, a family problem with the ears, a ship in a bottle, a passionate knitter, a daughter-in-law who was a care-giver, five in a family, a new baby, loss of eyesight, problems with a brother on the earth.

Jackie Wright
Jackie Wright

Then came the third communication. It was about a lady. A big personality, knew what she liked, could be quite sharp at times. Either worked with books in some way, or in a library. A mother, or a grandmother on the mother’s side of the family. Surprisingly, given the accuracy of the previous messages, there were no takers for this information.

Lillian continued: Four in the family. A long-term condition, not a sudden passing. She was a very difficult patient. She went into hospital but came back home again to pass. Still no takers.

Lillian again: Very much aware of sewing with this lady. She would have sewn her own clothes. A very, very particular lady, wanted everything absolutely clear-cut, wouldn’t have any nonsense. In younger years had a connection to a department store. Passing very close to her birthday... And still the message remained homeless.

At which point, a rather embarrassed voice was heard from behind the medium on the platform: “I’m very sorry...”

Kathryn Grundy, who, I noticed, had been paying close attention to the message, finally spoke up, apologising profusely. “It isn’t supposed to work this way!” joked Lillian, drawing laughter from the audience. Generously, Kathryn invited Lillian to cut the message, but the spirit visitor was having none of it!

Lillian stepped off the platform to face Kathryn and proceeded to give her very detailed additional information, which she appeared to accept readily. Her demonstration at an end, Lillian sat down and Kathryn invited Jackie Wright to work.

Those who know her have learned to expect a high degree of evidential accuracy through Jackie’s mediumship. She’s also explicit about the way she’s receiving information. For example: I’m seeing, I’m hearing, I’m sensing. I like this, because it allows the recipient a little more scope to assess whether things are being delivered ‘straight’ or may perhaps have been subject to interpretation.

I will highlight brief extracts from an exceptional communication, in which the information was so plentiful that it took almost 20 minutes to convey to the recipient, for whom it appeared to have great meaning.
“A gentleman tells me he’s dad. I hear ‘dad’ very clearly so don’t expect me to change it to the man next door!” she began.

He knew he was going to die and could not be made better. His death in some way divided the family. In life he was at times a bit of a selfish man. Looked after his own needs before his children’s. Had connections to welding or some kind of machinery.

Recipient has mum’s tin of buttons and was going through them in November. Looking for a particular button – gold and circular. A passionate love between mum and dad. The start of his funeral was delayed by an accident or traffic congestion. He was a smoker, but stopped. Had a gold lighter. Was one of three brothers.

A young man was stabbed. Died outside in the street (name given). Wasn’t a bad lad. In the wrong place at the wrong time. Became embroiled in something that wasn’t his fault. Was known to the police but only in a small way. Didn’t die instantly. Knew family and friends were all willing him to live. Had a tattoo on his neck. Recipient not a relative but knows his family. 

These two mediums complemented each other well – equally able, but bringing different approaches to their work. Both served the spirit admirably, offering a level of evidential detail that was a pleasure to witness, and is sadly all too rare.

No less than Stansted Hall itself, its beautiful grounds were put to good use during the week, despite the typically unpredictable British weather. The head gardener presided over a sale of plants that saw a number of visitors purchasing items for their own gardens. A barbecue was in full swing at lunchtimes, a new initiative introduced for Open Week back in 2012. Many visitors seemed to take advantage of this, while others chose to bring picnics which they spread out on cloths on the College lawns.

Freddie Mercury, also known as Miguel Olivares-Alvarez.

Freddie Mercury, also known
as Miguel Olivares-Alvarez.

On the Monday evening the two worlds met in a very different way as the celebrated Elvis and Freddie Mercury impersonator Miguel Olivares-Alvarez entertained a large crowd in the College sanctuary. Though I wasn’t present, I understand a good time was had by all and £1,117 was raised for the SNU’s designated charity, WaterAid. Additional funds for this life-saving charity were raised via collection boxes throughout the week.
Speaking with SNU president Minister David Bruton, chairman of the Arthur Findlay College, I asked him how he felt the week had gone.

“Open Week always provides the College with an opportunity to showcase its courses to the home market and for people to share the unique ‘Stansted experience’, many for the first time,” he told me.

“This year at each daily welcome meeting I asked who was visiting the College for the first time. On average between thirty and forty per cent of people indicated they were making their first visit. The overall standard of mediumship and teaching was excellent and I would like to thank the tutors and course organisers for their hard work. The staff, volunteers and Stansted healers all worked together to make Open Week 2013 a great success.

“On Wednesday 8th May, the last day of Open Week, the Spiritualists’ National Union organised a Secretaries’ Day and invitations went out to every SNU church. Over 100 people attended, which gave the Union the opportunity to share with many church committee members some of our plans for the coming year.

“Our general secretary Charles Coulston also provided an insight into the changes to our Rules for Churches 2013 which will be published in June, following Charity Commission approval. The day concluded with a guided tour of the Hall and estate, conducted by College general manager Tanya Smith and myself.”

Despite the excellent demonstration given by Lillian Steiner-Iten and Jackie Wright, and a number of interesting and well-delivered lectures and demonstrations, I was sorry from a personal point of view to note the absence of some of the SNU’s finest exponents. Gerard Smith, Eileen Davies, Mavis Pittilla, Paul Jacobs and Glynn Edwards, all protégées of the late, great Gordon Higginson, and all of whom have demonstrated their considerable gifts in Open Weeks gone by, were nowhere to be seen. There’s no doubt their presence would have been a great asset to those visiting the College, and perhaps enquiring into Spiritualism, for the first time.

That said, visitors with whom I spoke during the week had thoroughly enjoyed their experience of the College and told me they hoped very much to return in the future.

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