The hymn for the Common of Pastors, Morning Prayer begins with the lines “The Saints who toiled from place to place, spreading the Gospel of God’s grace” and has three stanzas.
As with the other hymns, this one too takes us back into a time of graced history. To explain this, we need to go back to 1829 and the Catholic Emancipation Act in England. It was the end of a process that took some 150 years to remove persecution from English law. But it had an unintended consequence, because over the next few decades clergy and scholars began to feel free to start researching the medieval period prior to Henry VIII, and at the same time there was a resurgence in the study of Latin and Greek. In this era John Henry Newman, the Inklings, and what became known as the Oxford Movement emerged. The Anglo-Catholic part of the Anglican church experienced a resurgence.
In 1863, Walter Howard Frere was born, and in due time he studied at Cambridge and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1889. He soon came into contact with others who were attracted by what they were learning about the history of various monastic and religious orders. After extensive preparation and study Walter Frere became one of the six founding members of a new Anglican religious community called the Community of the Resurrection.
They began this adventure in God on 25 July 1892 in Oxford, but soon moved south to Radley. A charism of pastoral involvement emerged, and they experienced a strong desire to minister among the working classes. So in 1898 the Community of the Resurrection moved to Mirfield in West Yorkshire. Here they founded a theological training college for those who felt called to pastoral ministry but who could never afford the tuition fees. Since it opened in 1902 it is still fulfilling this purpose. They also have a retreat ministry and a publishing house.
It was in this environment of rediscovery that Walter Frere was led to write the hymn, ‘The Saints who toiled from place to place.’
When the original leader of the community was selected as a bishop, it fell to Walter Frere to do the work of establishing the community on a sound footing. But he too was getting noticed, especially his writings on liturgical matters, and was selected as the bishop of Truro in 1923. As he approached his 72nd birthday, he resigned as bishop of Truro and returned to the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield. He died on 2 Apr 1938, on a Saturday, a few weeks prior to Resurrection Sunday that year, which was on 17 Apr 1938. He was buried at Mirfield.
It is amazing that the grace of God the six founders responded to in 1892, is still going strong and bearing good fruit 131 years later. For that we give thanks and praise to God.