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a blog by Chris Barrow

The Pilgrim's Progress

From 1963 to 1970 I attended Burnage Grammar School in South Manchester (which became "comprehensive" Burnage High School half way through my stay).

In the grammar school days, every morning we attended Assembly. Every pupil and teacher in the main school hall.

After the housekeeping for the day, we were invited to accompany the school's head music teacher on the piano as we sang the school hymn, adapted from John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" (written in 1684 and revised in 1906 to calm down the references to hobgoblins and fiends in the original).

There was grudging acceptance that we had to plough our way through this antiquated piece of Christianity and I've no doubt that if any recording survived the noise of a couple of hundred tired young men mumbling the words, it would not move the spirit.

However, after all these years I recently revisited the hymn, after discussing the topic with a client.

What struck me was the concept of "pilgrimage" - a traveller on a journey to enlightenment.

Even though the term has been hijacked by the Christian faith, there are pilgrims in every major world faith and even outside of religion - Elvis fans who make pilgrimages to Graceland.

Pilgrims are searching for answers from either their inside and/or their outside, and the Master or Lord in question doesn't have to be a deity, it can simply be a set of beliefs about what's right and wrong in the world. We can be secular pilgrims just as easily.

I thought about my school assembly all those years ago - and then about the morning huddle in a dental practice.

Just as many tired people, perhaps begrudgingly taking part - and yet perhaps, deep down, a point is made - that by reminding ourselves of our core values every day, we might just remember to do our best and feel proud of what we do.

Did you have a school hymn?

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 labour night and day

To be a pilgrim.

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