The death of a young person is always difficult to come to terms with. For family and friends it is devastating. But young people belong to such large networks of acquaintances through schools and clubs, that the death of a young person will affect a community to the core of those who live and work within it.
The death of anyone serving in HM Armed Forces, also makes raw the feelings of many who have a connection with the services, or simply wish to support those who risk their lives in areas of conflict.
It was no surprise therefore, that hundreds of Yateley residents gathered in and around St. Peter’s yesterday to pay their respects to a beloved son, husband, and friend – a young man who grew up among us. It naturally became an opportunity for the Church to take an important place at the heart of the community it serves.
The church fellowship itself had rallied around to create an appropriate welcome, both to the family, friends and the service personnel involved, but also to those who now wanted to take often hesitant steps, through the doors of a building that was now a focus, outlet or ‘home’ for their emotions. Although as a Lay Minister, my role in the service was small, it was reassuring to know that a very professional and caring team of pastors, caterers, bellringers, sidespeople and sound technicians were seamlessly and freely fulfilling their roles in circumstances completely beyond all our experiences. They augmented those who had already completed their work; those that had prayed, or swiftly cleaned, flower arranged and gardened in the days beforehand. God is faithful and enabled each to serve and provide strength to others.
From a personal viewpoint, liaising with and working alongside the well-oiled machine that are our Royal Marines was a joy, even if the cause of the occasion was heart-rending. Losing another of their own, hurt. You could hear it in their voices, and see it in their eyes, but they could still be efficient and share a joke.
The Naval Chaplain who officiated was a man of inspirational character and faith, who succeeded in repeatedly bringing a smile to my rather strained features, through our conversations and brief working time together. The calling to chaplaincy in our armed forces must be particularly challenging, not only for the circumstances that must be worked with and under, but also for the constant contrast those circumstances can provide with the love, peace, hope and justice offered by Christ.
My own brief, and poorly articulated thoughts in the last few days go something like this: There is evil in the world. We all live and work with evil, hurtful and difficult things hanging in the wings, and sometimes breaking through, to the centre of our lives. Some people, like every Royal Marine, make a concious decision to follow a way of life that means they know they will be affected by the truly horrendous acts of others.
Somehow, I feel sure that God is at work in each of the brave men I’ve met this week, whether they recognise it for themselves or not. Their work accepts the consequences of one line of authority, against often violent opposing forces who they can not predict or trust. They seek to influence for peace and the benefit of all, the thoughts and behaviour of strangers that they are daily brought into contact with. Is it me, or is that not a Christ-like way of life?
My only original liturgical contribution to the Thanksgiving Service for Adam Brown, was one of the prayers I led (the others being, sometimes adapted, prayers from Common Worship). Even this small offering has to acknowledge the influence of a prayer in Russ Parker’s ‘Wild Spirit of the Living God’ and the correcting pen of the Naval Chaplain! It marks my first small foray into pastoral and liturgical responsibility for the needs of those who find themselves bereaved and as they celebrate, remember and mourn their loved ones: