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Celebrate the Gifts of Pilgrimage

By Canon Chris Palmer

Last weekend I joined others for the launch of St Boniface Way, a new pilgrimage route from Crediton to Exeter Cathedral.

The route is significant for several reasons. First, it joins up the former seat of the bishop at Crediton with the ‘new’ seat of the bishop (since 1050) in Exeter. As such it is witness to the continuity of the church in Devon down the centuries, and the way that Exeter, despite the antiquity of its Cathedral foundation, is the inheritor of an even more ancient tradition. We stand as the beneficiaries of what former generations leave for us, and with an accompanying responsibility to hand on the faith to the next generation.

Second, the route is named after St Boniface, who was born in Crediton, and is patron saint of Devon. Boniface’s ministry took him to Germany, as a missionary bishop. He is probably better known in Germany than in the UK. So Boniface also represents our fellowship with Christians across the world. Jesus told his disciples to ‘make disciples of all nations’ and it is this wonderfully diverse internationalism of the church that makes it a truly catholic and inclusive community.

Third, St Boniface Way is accompanied by materials for reflection and devotion that highlight themes drawn from Benedictine spirituality: prayer, work, and study. These are illustrated by the places of prayer (the churches on the route as well as a holy well at Shobrooke); the farming communities and their places of work; and the university and city of Exeter, both places of study.

The themes of prayer, work, and study speak of the need for a balanced and integrated life in which each of these plays its part. We acknowledge our dependence on God, contribute to the flourishing of humankind, and grow in understanding and maturity.

Finally, the route itself passes through the most glorious countryside of the Creedy Valley, sometimes overlooking the vale from a height and sometimes following the path of the river. The route connects us with nature, with the rural communities we pass through, and with those who journey with us on the road. Pilgrimage offers the time to go slow, to feel and revel in these connections, and to listen and speak with others who share the road. This is an important antidote to the often inattentive way in which we pass by the people and places God puts in our way, and so pass by God also.

So I encourage you to walk St Boniface Way yourself. And even more, I invite you to choose and celebrate the gifts of pilgrimage: attentiveness to what God is offering us in each moment, solidarity with humankind, communion with saints in every part of the world, and communion with saints throughout the ages. What better way to celebrate All Saints’ Day this weekend!

You can find out more about St Boniface Way here.