By Rev’d Phil Wales, Cathedral Deacon
“We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are travellers on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.”
The Servant Song (from which these lyrics are taken) was written by British born New Zealander Richard Gillard in 1977. I was a teenager at the time it was published though I was unaware of this beautifully simple and yet profound hymn until I was introduced to it about 40 years later.
Many people will be familiar with the song because it quickly became very popular and remains so. It is sung in a wide range of worship settings, both accompanied and acapella. Composed by the self-taught guitarist it has an uncomplicated melody which encourages singers to join in. It evokes a gently powerful sense of unity, reciprocity, and hope in the transcendent. As might be expected there are many different online recordings which are freely available including one by Richard Gillard himself.
Given that the song is reasonably well known to me now, it seemed quite natural to find myself singing verses (silently in my heart) from time to time as I walked the St Boniface Way last weekend. Altogether there were about 50 or people who had committed to God, and one another, to travel together for part or all of the day.
A pilgrimage, a physical journey between places of particular religious and spiritual significance, can be undertaken by anyone seeking spiritual growth. No qualifications are needed! Established only a few years ago the St Boniface Way is one of four pilgrimage routes which have been created by Devon Pilgrim.
Our journey began in Crediton (the birthplace of St Boniface) and ended a little over 14 miles later at Exeter Cathedral. There were times to pause, pray and reflect at churches along the way (and, of course, enjoy cakes, refreshments and other treats kindly left out for us). It was a God given opportunity to meet other disciples and to share with one another more about our lives, our journeys, our hopes, and our concerns. We talked, listened, and looked; absorbing as much as each of us were able to do of the world around us. It felt wonderfully joyous to be among so many others who had decided to step away from the everyday and deepen their relationship with God in this way.
For me, one of the more memorable stages was at about the halfway point when we were invited to walk in silence between Newton St Cyres, and Upton Pyne (a journey of about three miles or so). There were, unsurprisingly, one or two momentary interruptions to check directions or to avoid hazards. Yet the collective silence which we kept for well over an hour felt liberating rather than limiting. As we walked it was moving to behold so many people meandering along the riverbank of the Creedy one sunny summer’s afternoon in the presence of our Creator. And, who knows, perhaps others were singing silently in their hearts too at times along the way.
“When we sing to God in Heaven
We shall find such harmony,
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony.
(The Servant Song, verse 5)