To Be a Pilgrim

posted in: Being Human, Personal, Unity | 1

To Be a Pilgrim

The school I went to was flawed and exemplary, a broken yet beautiful place filled with broken and beautiful people. Hilarious people. Sad people. Clever people. Successful people. Anxious people. 

It wasn’t the kind of school I’d necessarily want every school to be like, and I learnt rather more than I might have wanted about pain and fear and sadness than I might have hoped. I also learnt an immense amount about the power of humour, the power of ideas, the power of listening, and the power of words to shape and direct and change.

At the time of writing, barring any major time travel or accidental lottery win, I am neither an old man nor  a rich man. I am, however, trying to be a pilgrim. The school hymn at my school was ingrained on the minds of all of us who plodded it’s hallowed Halls and thumbed its green leatherette hymnboooks. Our school hymn tended to be sung bombastically and loudly, mostly from memory. It was, and is (at least until some multifarious pc consortium takes over) the brilliant ‘To Be a Pilgrim’. It opens with the marvelously nostalgic and almost culturally insensitive ‘He who would valiant be’, and is allegedly the only hymn that the great Christian writer John Bunyan (he of A Pilgrims Progress, which if you haven’t read, you are missing out) penned. It is a stirring hymn, seemingly macho but on closer examination it is actually quite subtle. 

Take these two verses:


He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster,

Let him in constancy follow the Master.

There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent

His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round with dismal stories

Do but themselves confound—his strength the more is.

No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight,

He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit,

We know we at the end, shall life inherit.

Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say,

I’ll labor night and day to be a pilgrim.

Like the brilliant book from whence it’s themes flow.

But I digress.

This blog post isn’t really about my school days – but rather one word and it’s present implications for how I choose to use a fraction of my time and energy. I’ve recently had the honor of becoming a Trustee of a charity. Like many people my age (I completely refuse to recognize the label millennial, which is a word properly used in discussions of eschatology) I want to make a difference. Unlike some people my age, I’m also wary of new things for their own sake, or of starting new things because the old ones are complicated or hard to change.

And so the cause I have chosen is close to my heart. Older people. I have become a trustee of Pilgrims Friends Society because I love and recognize their Christian faith and focus, their heritage and history, their team and eyes to the future. In a culture where the elderly are not particularly respected, where those with dementia are ignored and sidelined, I felt led to, in a very small way, stand for something 

I think is important.

I grew up in a church with a good spread of ages. I personally find it quite difficult being in mono-aged groups. Because we weren’t designed for a family of only one generation. Echoing the God we Image, we were designed for relationship, fathers and sons bound together in Love. I’m quite sure that this new thing I’m embarking on is a bit nuts – the timing might be wrong, it isn’t perfect, I’m definitely not perfect, etc. – but I’m struck by that word from the hymn. That word from the charity’s name. That notion of calling and challenge and place and journey coming together. To be a pilgrim.

I don’t know whether I’ll blog much about this facet of my life. I do know that I’ll think deeply about it,  pray About it, and reflect outwards some of the things I hope God will teach me through it.

After all, I’ve got a lot to learn.

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