This morning I went to St. Peter and St. Paul in Muchelney (near Langport, Somerset) for the first time since the concert I gave there in March. I was asked back to sing at their team service, where all the churches in the parish worship together. It was an honour to be asked back and lovely to see so many familiar faces again!
The theme for the service was the Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago – the pilgrimage walked by thousands of people a year. Funnily enough, I’d had a conversation with someone on the bus to Taizé about the film called The Waywith Martin Sheen, which is about the road to Santiago, and when I’d got home I ordered the DVD as it wasn’t the first time I’d heard good things about the film.
But the film had just been sitting there, waiting to be watched, until I got a call from the priest at Muchelney asking me to sing and explaining that three of the parishioners had recently returned from walking the Way. The time had come to watch The Way, and it was well worth waiting for. If you haven’t seen it, do! It’s an incredibly beautiful and moving film.
Anyway, so the service today was about this pilgrimage (which I now want to do!). And I think it is the first church service I’ve been in for…years, if ever…that I have felt the power of God so tangibly. There were photographs shown from the pilgrimage undertaken by the three parishioners, who had travelled with a group from the Diocese. There were also stories and reflections, prayers and songs. I felt really moved to have been asked to sing many of the songs during the service.
The most poignant moment was undoubtedly during what would ordinarily have been the slot for Communion. However, rather than sharing the bread and wine, the congregation was called to lay down their burdens. At their entrance to the church this morning, each person was given a pebble or stone to hold, as is done when walking the road to Santiago. The stones are then placed symbolically at one point along the pilgrimage, and this was recreated during the service. This was where I sang several songs, and I felt so blessed to have been part of it. The lead-in to this was a reading from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’ – Matthew 11:28-30
I then sang this song:
I can’t help but think about the significance behind this act of laying down burdens. I remembered a Good Friday service where the congregation was asked to come forward and lay a nail down at the foot of the cross, to reflect on the closeness of the crucifixion, and this stuck me as just as powerful as that experience had been.
We carry around so much unnecessary baggage and so often we ignore what we are holding onto – perhaps because someone we know is suffering and we consider their burden greater than ours, or perhaps because we find it difficult to face the difficulties we experience.
It was a great blessing to share in the experience of the pilgrims this morning. The question I am left with now is: will I walk? And the answer may well be yes!