The international headquarters of the World Healing Crusade are at 476 Lytham Road in Blackpool. Blackpool residents may have heard of the organisation or seen Crusader, its free magazine or viewed the official website. However, how exactly does the globally famous World Healing Crusade chime in with Blackpool’s heritage?
There are two major reasons. This town traditionally welcomes not just all Christian denominations but also most other world faiths. The evidence is visible in the wealth of churches, synagogues and mosques dotting the area. These date from the middle of the 19th century. The first was probably the original, smaller St. John’s Church built in the early 19th century on the site of an earlier place of worship, still opposite the Winter Gardens. Others, such as Sacred Heart which made possible local worship for the town’s Roman Catholics who used to walk to their church in Poulton every Sunday, appeared in the 1860s. Since then, settlers and visitors have ensured considerable religious diversity throughout Blackpool. Now, North Shore is home to a well-established, popular Buddhist centre and New Age-type activities, meditation sessions and yoga classes are advertised in windows of newsagents on nearly every main road in town. And so, the WHC, with its focus on ecumenism, meditation and studying, sits well in a framework of religious or spiritual approaches towards heritage and local history interests.
The lovely Edwardian building that houses the WHC is within walking distance of Blackpool centre. Passers-by no doubt pause to admire its distinctive exterior on the corner plot next door to what was the Arnold School complex. Set in spacious grounds, the 1911 main building known as Calderbank, is remarkable for its exterior colour scheme of terracotta brick and cream stone, its double bay towers and the checkerboard patterned gable end facing the busy road. Surrounded by high brick walls sloping unusually between tall posts along the side road, the WHC ‘sanctuary’ is easily reached through the small main gateway. At the front, the gravelly space, its lawn almost bare of trees but to the rear, the winding paths through soft grass are reassuring and the ‘stillness and silence’ - characteristics mentioned repeatedly in WHC publications - calm nerves still jangling from noisy traffic beyond the walls. Mind and eye, heart and spirit adjust slowly to a new rhythm, a different beat as visitors are ushered through the arched portico and front doors into a generously-sized entrance hall.
Founded in 1953 by son of Norwegian immigrants, Mandus Nyquist, later internationally famous through his many publications as Brother Mandus, the World Healing Crusade states its main concerns lie in faith healing which it aims to achieve by means of prayer talks and study. According to its mission statement published on the WHC website, the organisation seeks to demonstrate ‘total commitment to helping people in need through love, faith and prayer...’. Emphasising ecumenism and Bible studies illuminated by the recorded musings and deeds of religious figures from other world beliefs, the WHC is known best by its publications. The original text of The Grain of Mustard Seed by Brother Mandus can be found amid the booklets, leaflets and posters first encountered by visitors in the gloomy hallway whose broad staircase of heavy oak leads upwards into the first floor shadows.
Revelations then are the huge rooms encircling the entrance hall. In the first room, a conclave of whispering adult students startled by the sudden visitors leans into a circle of wooden chairs, heads turning back to study.
The WHC promotes spontaneity, inter-faith dialogue, intensive reading and Bible studies framed within an awareness of truths inherent in other major world religions. The fleeting impression of the Be Here Now-type mindset, one influential legacy of 1960s countercultural pioneers in religion, art, literature and music is implied in the books or personae of present leaders. At the moment, there seem to be two of these. Martin Nathaniel is an engaging, mercurial Peter Pan figure and respected writer of WHC material. Anne Nyquist is friendly and is interested in presenting or promoting the work of the WHC. She used to live with Conrad, the son of founder, Brother Mandus, but now lives in the residential apartments of the adjoining building with Martin. Martin is knowledgeable about WHC history and quite informed about the house, which passed from builders Jane Higgins and her photographer neighbour Frederick Ash through carnival organisers, the Millington family, and then Brother Mandus with his wife, Annie, to the present occupiers who struggle to finance essential repairs and renovations. Status as a registered or religious charity does not really help in attracting lottery funding and costly scaffolding remains in place. So far they have only repainted interior features and replaced upper floor windows. More questions about marquetry panels on the inner doors perplexed Martin, the prolific author and setter of WHC standards.
There seems to be little actually documented about the building itself or its many features. Does any reader have any information? From all too brief tours kindly given around the World Healing Crusade headquarters, there seems to be a multitude of short, purpose-written literature and plenty of CDs to appealing perhaps to less bookish students. On the walls of most rooms, small reproductions of artworks belonging to different international religions are displayed. Supposedly influenced by 20th century English New Thought or rejecting it altogether, according to which source is consulted, the WHC states it is interested in social progress, encouraging spiritual development through meditation and reflections on selected thoughts proposed by in-house authors.
This method largely agrees with academic strategies used by the nearby Cumbria based but globally popular Buddhist New Kadampa Tradition, the ideas of whose academic courses made more accessible by studying works written by its Tibetan founder, are then taught directly to international students there. Like its Buddhist Manjushri Institute neighbour, the WHC maintains its own website. Its pages are filled with images of psychedelic flowers, evangelical preachers in full throttle, book covers of WHC titles, mass prayer meetings and lots of links to other websites.
The World Healing Crusade is situated at 476 Lytham Road, Blackpool FY4 1JF. Tel. 01253 343701. https://whc.uk.net/