He may look like everyone’s favourite grandfather but Canon William Lendrum regularly confronts the Devil. Exorcism he says, ‘is like a fire in your house that you have to put out’
The Belfast Telegraph (Ireland), Feb. 17, 2003
By Gail Walker
There is a distinct chill in the front room of the comfortable middle-class semi in south Belfast, and it has nothing to do with the heavy morning frost outside.
I am talking to The Exorcist.
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Canon William Lendrum (78), a small man with warm twinkly eyes, may look like everyone’s favourite grandfather but on his travels around Northern Ireland he says he routinely confronts the Devil and all his works.
He tells me about banishing evil spirits from people who crawled along the floor like snakes, attacked him, screamed and fell unconscious – describing scenes horribly like those that terrified millions in the infamous film, The Exorcist. Some, he says, he could not save.
He talks of his attempts to rescue people from the clutches of a shadowy organisation, the Ulster Assassination Cult. He disappears upstairs to fetch a “typical” Satanic Oath.
“My lord and master Satan, I acknowledge you as my god and prince…” he begins to read.
Then there was the woman who had two sessions with an Ouija Board and ended up fearing for her life. “A few minutes fun, 14 years of hell,” says Mr Lendrum.
He also routinely “gets a team together” to perform exorcisms on houses.
But is he an eccentric? Or does the the retired Church of Ireland cleric offer a fascinating, thought-provoking insight into the occult, one of the most disturbing and dangerous aspects of modern life – and so controversial that even churches shy away from discussing it?
In our modern scientific world it is, of course, commonplace to offer rational explanations for strange occurrences and more rare for people to believe they are Satan’s work.
Besides, for many, the occult is an apparently harmless, ‘fun’ part of everyday life – consulting astrologists, mediums, Tarot readers and fortune-tellers.
Surprisingly, for many years, Mr Lendrum, too, was a sceptic when it came to the Devil. “He was never mentioned at Bible college and I’d serious doubts about his existence,” he confesses.
But not any more. “Seeing is believing. Experience teaches a fool,” he says.
The way he tells it, it is almost as if God chose him for his work. As a minister in the early 70s he began “to feel a kind of perverse plan working against me. Things kept going wrong just when they’d cause most damage, like before I ran a mission. The edge would be taken off my sword, if you like.
“I began to have an open mind about what was the cause of it.”
In swift succession he was loaned a book, Spiritual Warfare – “something I’d never thought about before” – and then met a young woman in an alcoholic hospital where he was chaplain. He refers to her by the pseudonym ‘Alice’ and what he witnessed chilled him to the core.
Sitting in a comfy armchair, Mr Lendrum recalls the story matter-of-factly, which only serves to add to the overall fear factor. “Alice started being argumentative and truculent. She talked about herself in the third person. Then it dawned on me that someone else was using Alice’s lips to speak to me about Alice. It was an evil spirit talking, it was in control of her life.”
Mr Lendrum decided to carry out his first exorcism. “It was an exciting sort of business,” he admits, hastily adding: “Well, exciting, coupled with fear.
“I commanded the spirit to go and Alice let out a great scream and fell to the ground, unconscious. When she came round, she was surprised to see me. She hadn’t even known I was there while the demon was speaking through her.”
Alice, however, was not free. She habitually talked of meeting a “mysterious dark stranger.”
Mr Lendrum says: “Eventually I prised out details of how she’d been initiated into something called the satanic Ulster Assassination Cult in a blood-letting ritual. I think this man had something to do with it.”
He carried out a further exorcism, assembling helpers, including a doctor. “We cast out several demons that came to the surface, mocking and jeering. But then Alice refused to co-operate. She stood in the corner of the room, saying in a low voice,’they’re trying to take me away from you but they will not succeed.’
“You will not be successful with exorcism if the person you trying to help fights against you. Alice passed out of our influence and died in her early 40s in a red light area of Belfast.”
He had similar frustrations with ‘Roberta.’ She began to choke one night and her partner saw a pair of hands round her throat. The figure of a lady who resembled her grandmother also appeared at her bedside, saying: “You will be the next one to be with me.”
Mr Lendrum celebrated Holy Communion in the house and performed an exorcism but afterwards Roberta said that throughout she’d had a strong urge to laugh. “I saw in her the presence of a mocking, hostile demon. I confronted it and she started to attack me.
“I said, ‘In the name of Jesus, stop’ and she fell as if hit by a hammer. I commanded the demon to leave and there was a loud scream. The demon left and she sat up.”
Mr Lendrum says that because those possessed have often made some form of pact with the Devil, a successful exorcism does not necessarily mean the end of the matter. “The Devil gets a grip and does not let go easily. You can set people free for a while but unless you follow them up, they often fall backwards.”
Roberta moved out of Mr Lendrum’s care. Later he heard she’d died in tragic circumstances. “And I couldn’t help but think of those words, ‘you will be the next one with me…'” he adds, rather unnecessarily.
Born in east Belfast, Mr Lendrum ministered on the Shankill Road and served as rector in Whiterock and St Mary Magdalene on Donegall Pass. He also spent 14 years at Lisburn Cathedral.
Married to Leah and the father of five grown-up daughters, most of his exorcisms are of places, not people, for example, of a jeweller’s shop in a town in Co Antrim where objects were frequently moved around and strange noises were heard.
“Afterwards all strange activity ceased immediately,” he says. “A hundred years ago the house had been a doctor’s surgery where operations were carried out, which may have been significant.”
He has also worked extensively with poltergeist activity – thought not to be the work of demons but rather down to energy, often generated by a young person in the house, usually a girl approaching puberty or a young man doing exams.
He doesn’t get frightened during exorcisms. “It’s like a fire in your house that you have to put out. The adrenalin gets going.”
Recently he published an account of his work, Confronting the Paranormal, which, largely through word of mouth, has been racing off the shelves.
As long as this article “isn’t sensationalist”, publicity doesn’t worry him. “Some people might think I’m a bit off-line, an eccentric but most people accept me and, generally, when clergy run up against this type of thing, they come to me.”
Does nothing scare him? “Oh yes,” he says, collapsing back in his chair with a grin. “I’m frightened of my wife.”
Confronting the Paranormal by William H Lendrum, £4.99. On sale at Easons, Faith Mission bookshops, the Association for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, beside St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, Family Books, Belfast Spires Centre and Bargain Books.