Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Two Funerals and a Conversation

Today I stood in the crematorium vestry before my first funeral of 2012.  It was there that I met up with the lady vicar from Sherborne who had just officiated at the service before mine.  We chatted and she told me that no family members had been in the congregation of the funeral she had just taken, only care workers.  The reason, apparently, was that the lady had suffered from dementia for years and everyone seems to have lost touch with her as she went through that ‘long goodbye’.  My clergy friend, however, said she was pleased to have had the opportunity to officiate and gave the best service she could for the lady who had died, recognising her as a daughter of God, made in his image and holding, even in her most fragile moments of living, that sacredness that belongs to every life.

I pondered her words and was moved by them – and wondered what might have been the story of that lady’s life before she slipped into dementia.

Then it was my turn.  My turn to do one of the most privileged tasks of this calling – to lead a funeral.

There was a fair number at this service, which was lovely as the lady we were remembering was over ninety.  I had been given some biographical notes by her son and I used them as the basis of the tribute.  I could almost hear a number in the congregation say, to themselves rather than out loud – ‘well we didn’t know that’, or ‘what a surprise she lived there’. We learnt a lot – much more than most of us knew during the last five years she has been worshipping with us. 

What I discovered was just how active she had been in various churches in her younger days and the fact that all through her life she has been a regular worshipper at her local Methodist church – until she moved here and attended our Baptist church because it was literally next door!  I was thrilled to discover such faithful loyalty to Christ and his gospel.

‘My story’ didn’t begin the first time you met me – neither did yours the first time I bumped into you!  God has been at work in the narrative which is our past – and in those struggles and joys I, like you, have discovered something of his love and grace woven into what I did, who I met and where I went. Indeed, although I wouldn’t want to be captured by my past – and are not all of us grateful for new beginnings – it does belong to me and in many ways has shaped my present.

That’s what we were celebrating today at the funeral – the divine companionship and activity of God – present with from the cradle to the grave.

This weekend, as we’re in the middle of The Week of Prayer for Christian Unit, Sunday is a little different with a united service at St John’s at 10.30am – then at 6.30pm we’re having a Bible Study evening in The Chapel Lounge looking at The Epistle of James (Study Sheets on the Christian Education Leaflet page of our website – but rest assured there’s no exam!)
With best wishes,
Ian

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