Remembering loved ones past and present at weddings

Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary's Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson
Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary’s Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson

One of the joys of this summer is to have presided at my first weddings.

The first was the fulfilment of a prophesy, at least for me, as having a vision of me officiating at my first wedding had been one clergy friend’s encouragement for me to seek selection for ordination! I am most grateful to Tarran Patterson, the photographer on the occasion, for snapping the photo here as I completed the registers without me being aware of it at all, so that I have a visual memory of the occasion. We are blessed at Old Basing with room for official photographers to take a few photos during the ceremony without intruding into proceedings at all, and she managed to do that brilliantly, which was a gift to a rooky priest.

Today’s wedding was my last for this year. The bride will be ‘given away’ by her mother, as sadly her father died a few years ago, and is laid to rest in our churchyard. She asked to lay “his” button hole on his grave before she entered the church so he is included in the day, so I suggested that we not only do that, but we say a prayer as we do so. She, her sisters, and particularly her mother, seem very grateful for being able to ‘fill in the gap’ in this way.

Loved ones are always more acutely missed on such occasions, especially when they would have otherwise fulfilled a special role. At my first wedding the bride paused at a siblings side when coming down the isle to give them the flower token that their daughter would have carried, had she survived infancy. Another lovely touch that it was easy to enable, and we also remembered the child by name in the prayers when acknowledging other deceased loved ones, parents again.

When we rehearsed last night with this weeks couple, it was also decided that I would pray a blessing over the whole family, so that their children feel not only part of the occasion as bridesmaid and pageboys, but visibly included in God’s love in a special way too.

Needless to say there’s not a standard prayer in Common Worship for either circumstance (that I could find anyway, as this is not a blended family) so it was time to turn to and write my own. With a little encouragement from Rev’d Ally who confirmed my use of language fitted with the tradition of my serving parish (my incumbent being away), I shall be using these on Friday (as this blog post goes up).

A prayer at the graveside of a parent (in this case a father):
Gracious God
We remember at this special moment
the example of love that N shared with his family.
Understanding that he rests with your saints in your glorious presence,
but acknowledging his part in today in the symbol of this flower,
may each person here
know that N’s prayers, comfort and goodness are with them,
and that with Christ,
his love for them is never ending,
through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A blessing for the family:
Father God,
as N and N stand before you with
A, B and C,
may they know your presence in their lives together,
experience patience, trust and truthfulness among each other,
and trust daily in the example of love that is in Jesus
that together they may live joyfully
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
that is at work in all our lives. Amen.

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The gospel of our lives – considering our own mortality

Calligraphy in the entrance hall to Harriet Monsell House, Ripon College Cuddesdon home to the sisters of St John Baptist and The Good Shepherd, as well as conference rooms at Ripon College Cuddesdon
Calligraphy in the entrance hall to Harriet Monsell House, Ripon College Cuddesdon home to the sisters of St John Baptist and The Good Shepherd, as well as conference rooms at Ripon College Cuddesdon

The most recent study weekend of my ordination training, was one of the most useful encountered so far as it focused on our future ministry with the dying and bereaved. But as part of the weekend, a reflective session encouraged us to consider our own mortality; what in life invites us to think about own own mortality?

We were offered some optional exercises that could have involved starting to write our will, or considering what we might put in a memory box about ourselves for a child or grandchild, or consider what we might write in an obituary about ourselves.

I found I couldn’t even consider doing any of them, alone. That is without my husband to talk them through with. What follows was what I did write, which probably also reflects a little of what I’ve discussing with my spiritual director recently about self-esteem:

We are not simply, only, merely, the person that we think we are, but we are also who our dearest family and our friends love, with the faults and foibles we don’t care to admit, but also with the skills and gifts we take for granted, attributes and beauty we simply don’t see in ourselves. To recognise our own mortality fully, do we not need to understand ourselves as others see us?

Surely we need to be realistic about the impact our death would have on those around us, both in the small practical day-to-day matters of life, and in the ‘me’-sized space that we would leave behind, a space that – depending on our view of ourselves – might be far larger, or perhaps rather smaller, than the one we tend to think we occupy.

How is the picture of ourselves enlarged, or diminished, when we place this process of creating a realistic picture of ourselves, in the light of Christ, and our relationship with God?

God sees all of us, inside and out, who we have been, who we are, and who we will be at the time of our death. Only he sees us perfectly, and has done from the first moment of our existence (Psalm 139:1-18).

Jesus has taken the journey of our mortality before, and for, us. He did the ordinary things of life that we do, as well as the extra-ordinary things of his servant-hood and ministry as the Son of God, that those of us who by our faith are known as Christians seek to emulate despite our weakness and humanity. These are things we read of in Gospels, the stories of Jesus doings in life, the good news of the impact his life had on the those he encountered in life, in death, and after his resurrection.

So when we’re asked to consider our own mortality, the fact that we will die, what we are being asked to consider is what will be the gospel of our own lives?

Cross-border funerals and bereavement care

DSCN1055cw(Lillies)Our parish churches and their ministers, have certain responsibilities. These include, as I understand it, the requirement to baptise, marry and bury those who request such ‘occasional offices’.

Whilst reflecting recently on my own past practice in taking funerals, I came a broader reflection on the way the Church of England approaches the care they offer at some funerals, which may simply be about the way my local patch has done things in the past, but may have a broader application. I’d welcome your thoughts:

It concerns what happens when a family from outside the parish approach a church requesting a funeral for a loved-one, because of some prior connection, most often previous residence and the fact a relative is already buried in the local churchyard or cemetery.

For other occasional offices, contact is also established in some form with the family’s local church. With baptisms, permission is typically sought from their local parish church, and in some cases baptism preparation may take place there. With weddings, assuming banns are required, formal contact is also required between the couple and the place, or places they live. There is also an encouragement through the wedding project to seek the prayer support of the parish you live in.

I am aware of no such tradition of missional contact with their parish of residence when families return to a community to have a relative buried; but do correct me if I’m wrong!

So, I’m wondering if, with the family’s approval, it would be helpful and good practice, to contact the local parish or minister of grieving relatives, so that further bereavement support could be provided by the wider church, especially since it could prove difficult for your own parish and it’s pastoral team to follow through with such work?

Otherwise, there may be a danger of leaving families isolated from other appropriate sources of Christian pastoral care, and as Christian ministers we may also be guilty of compromising our own missional capacity.

Is this something that the current research project started last year by the Archbishop’s Council could, or should, consider?

A Honey-coloured grief at Christmas

Honey Hartland 2005-2012
Honey Hartland 2005-2012

Those who know us well, or follow my ramblings on Twitter, will know that the last couple of weeks have been strained by the fact that we had our wonderfully chaotic, demanding, some-what psycho, seven year old terrier dog ‘Honey’ put down on 14th December.

The logistics of life are easier. We don’t have to come home after five hours out, or make time to go for a cold, wet walk. Day trips to college and quiet days will be simplified. Friends won’t be pestered for ‘tiddling’ duties, and might be invited to dinner more frequently. Even dreams of a summer holiday are simplified. Replacing her isn’t an option to be entertained by any logical look at what the next few years is likely to bring (specifically any future curacy that isn’t in the community we live in).

But, I am finding it tough, very tough, to come home to an empty house; not to have a crazy hound barking herself daft every time we laugh at a joke, have a visitor, or turn the TV or computer off; not to have a warm, furry heap of Honey on my knee when I say Morning Prayer, or a digging maniac on the bed with my cuppa of a morning. There’s nothing jumping up to demand I throw a stick/stone/ball across the room/garden/fields. I’m not being dragged out into the winter rain and fog to catch glimpses of leaping Roe Deer or stealthy foxes. I can’t even cope with standing in the garden gazing at the stars with my husband last thing at night – not that there’s much chance of that with weather that seems to cry with me!

In recent months I’d actually prayed about the fact that I thought I should be able to empathise with people’s turmoil and grieving more, because looking back at past bereavements, even losing my Mother 17 years ago, though stressful and upsetting, didn’t ‘break me’ emotionally very much. I should know by now to be careful what I pray for, because losing Honey has left me hurting more than I ever imagined.

A wise friend said to me that this is because like a little child, a pet is totally dependent on us – for food, warmth, exercise, affection etc. They are there in your life, heart and mind, 24/7; even if you leave them for a few hours, you must return, simply to meet their basic needs. I have yet to learn to live comfortably without that requirement to always be thinking about Honey’s next need.

And yet, despite the gaping hole, I have struggled to make room for that other child, also no stranger to mucky mayhem, to pain and grief. The have been three small snatches of connection with the Christ-child this Christmas, but they’ve been will-o’-the-wisp moments that I need to recapture as I struggle to pick up the threads of what I’m meant to be focusing my life upon. A vicious and lingering virus may not be helping, but what I know I need is to re-gain the zest for life that Honey had and make the most of every moment God gives me, just as she did, because she was just as much part of his creation, as I am.

Life and Lives Lived – a fresh expression of All Saints and Souls?

All Saints Church, Minstead, lit to welcome those celebrating ‘Life and Lives Lived’ 3rd November 2012

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of sharing in ‘A Service Celebrating Life and Lives Lived’ at All Saints, Minstead in the New Forest. The village church was filled with light and colour as people from all over the area met together at the conclusion of two community events designed to dovetail together.

Minstead Study Centre held a light of heart ‘Days of the Dead’, reflective celebration of death, dying, grief and bereavement, building on the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration of dead ancestors.

All Saints Church in Minstead celebrated ‘Life and Lives Lived’ at the same time, with felt angel making, a prayer tree, time to think and talk about the Christian view of life and death over cake and tea, and a vivid illustration of how a school had engaged with patients at a local hospice to explore ideas surrounding death and dying.

The sarcophagus and display material showing the work of pupils from Pennington Junior School with the residents of Oakhaven Hospice, 2012

The service that concluded both the events was led by Revd Kate Wilson, who as well as being vicar of a neighbouring parish is part-time chaplain at Oakhaven Hospice, where, nearly 17 years ago, my mother died. Kate had worked with volunteers at the hospice, Pennington Junior School, a student at Brockenhurst College, and the residents at the hospice to create a wonderful Egyptian sarcophagus which was on display along with many photo’s of all the other activities involved in their project day. Reading and seeing the details of young children working with people who were dying to create things of beauty like Egyptian bookmarks, whilst also talking about the fears of all about the idea of dying, was actually very moving.

Cross and candles in the south window of the nave at All Saints, Minstead for the celebration of ‘Life and Lives Lived’, 3rd November 2012

The service itself was also very moving, as it drew together people of all faiths and none, with the Gospel message being drawn out through non-scriptural readings. With Revd Wilson’s permission I am outlining below roughly what material was used and the order this very informal service took; what she described as “probably what they call a ‘fresh expression’ of church.

Love suffers – a reflection for those remembering

Candles lit in memory of loved ones.

This is the season of remembering. When we remember it makes raw old wounds, the pain of previous partings, and the emptyness of suffering.

Recently my father read the following reflection at a friends funeral, and again this last weekend at a service of ‘Life and Lives Lived’ that marked All Saints-tide. I share it with you now, in the hope that it might speak into the needs of others. It comes from a book he found helpful following bereavements of his own.

Nicholas Wolterstorff is an American philosopher and devout Roman Catholic. ‘Lament for a Son’ is his published journal recording his grieving during the first year following the death of his eldest son, Eric, who died aged 25 in a mountaineering accident. This reflection was put together by Dad from pages 89-90 of the book:

What is suffering? When something prized or loved is ripped away or never granted – work, someone loved, recognition of one’s dignity, life without physical pain – that is suffering.

Or rather, that’s when suffering happens. What it is, I do not know. For many days I had been reflecting on it. Then suddenly, as I watched the flicker of orange-pink evening light on almost still water, the thought overwhelmed me: I know nothing of it. Of pain, yes: cut fingers, broken bones. Of sorrow and suffering, nothing at all. Suffering is a mystery as deep as any in our existence. It is not of course a mystery whose reality some doubt. Suffering keeps its face hid from each while making itself known to all.

We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright, some athletic, some admired. But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony.

This said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.

God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love.

So suffering is down at the centre of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. For love is the meaning. And love suffers.

Posted in particular memory of RL known to many as Larry. RIP dear man.

Helping Children Deal with Grief

'Thingy' still living in my son's bedroom, nine years on.

When my son was about six, one of those people with ‘grandmother’ status in our family died.

My husband and I had discussed previously that we would explain clearly but simply to him what had happened. Our son was already aquainted with the concept of death, since from the age of three he’d had tropical fish, and sadly through the poor advice we were initially given, and the short life span of some fish, by six years old he had discovered that fish don’t live for ever.

When I came home from supporting my Father at the end of the day that J died, my husband had broken the news of her death to our boy. We knew he would be devastated as she was full of fun and he delighted in the pony rides and mud in her fields he enjoyed when we visited regularly.

I came home with ‘Thingy’, a small toy that had been in J’s lounge and frequently been played with by our boy on our visits there. I explained that because J had died, and could no longer look after it, ‘Thingy’ was now his. It made J’s death a bit more real for him, which was obviously painful, but it meant that he understood why there was a need for us as a family to do more travelling and sorting than normal, and why everyone (especially Grandpa) was rather miserable and upset.

Although we decided it wasn’t appropriate for him to attend the short crematorium service (partly because of sensitivity to J’s relatives), he did attend the far more personal Thanksgiving Service that was held at a week or so later, with the familiar things he knew (her saddle, riding boots and garden flowers) clearly visible along side the wicker urn which held her ashes. We were able to share together our collective grief, and the strain of my role in the service (a reading), as being perfectly normal, rather than something hidden or secret.

I was reminded of all this by a recent conversation with a grieving family who needed to encourage their grandson to explain to the four year old great-grandson, the death of a much loved, and talented, grandparent. It also sent me back to find various resources I’ve been made aware of over the years that can help children, and adults, to cope with their grief at the death of a loved one. I’m really collecting them here as an aide memoire for my own future reference, but thought it might help others too.

I found some good advice at Dragonflypin.co.uk. Here there are also other resources for helping children and adults of different ages as well. In particular I have come across the following two story books which are good:

There is also a good leaflet to support adults helping children when someone has died. It’s produced by Mothers’ Union called ‘Children and Bereavement’ and is available direct or through local members in the community in which you live. It includes other ideas for remembering a loved one, and some contact details for different support groups.

Beyond the grave at #gb11

Part of the graveyard at St Peter's Yateley

I’ve spent much of my ministry as a Reader in the last 12 months focusing on the funeral ministry here at St Peter’s, developing my ministry in this field alongside helping to nurture the parish’s during our recent vacancy.

Though I’ve been involved in a wide range of funerals in that year, and I’d previously had the day of training offered by the Diocese of Winchester, I’ve been more than aware that I’ve only scratched the surface of connecting with different people’s reactions to the death of a loved one.

So listening to Paula Gooder talk on ‘Beyond the grave: what happens after we die’ was another ‘must’ for me at Greenbelt.

I’ve had the privilege of hearing Paula speak before – she covered the Gospel of Mark about three years ago at the Bishop of Winchester’s Lent Lecture, and of course she’s almost a regular on BBC Radio now! I knew therefore that what she said would be very focused on what the Bible actually tells us, but that I’d need my brain to be fully engaged – along with my notebook! I wasn’t disappointed.

Paula emphasised above all that the Biblical narrative may have a variety of views on life after death, but what it definitely and repeatedly states is that it believes in the resurrection of the body. At some future point the dead will rise to a new physical existence in a new created reality.

This made me jealous. Jealous of those that saw the resurrected Jesus, that could talk about first hand; those that walked the road to Emmaus; jealous even of dear old Thomas. Thomas above all others might be able to report to the rest of us the idea of Jesus’ continuous (people could touch him) and discontinuous (people who knew him didn’t always realise who he was) as Paula described it.

You see I struggle to visualise what a resurrected body might be like; my own, or anyone elses. I know, that’s why we have this thing called faith.

Among the funerals, and attendant pastoral visits that I’ve done in the last year, no-one has asked me about the resurrection, nor have they asked me the even more difficult question that Paula focused on, that is what happens between death and resurrection?

For me the theology of God’s new Kingdom being ‘now and not yet’ tends to lead me to agree with the third of the options that Paula identified as being believable from the Biblical narrative: that is, that we are judged at the point of our death, and that we are then held somewhere waiting for the resurrection to take place – you are in heaven if you are not in hell, but you are still awaiting the resurrection.

If I were asked, as I guess one day I will be, where someone’s loved-one is after they have died, I think I am comfortable with saying that they are somewhere awaiting the resurrection when God’s Kingdom is fully revealed.

What I might say if the deceased might not have been a particularly ‘nice’ person, would probably have to dwell on the fact that it is not our place to judge people, but God’s, and that we have to trust that they are in his hands. Or is that too namby pamby?

Paula didn’t really touch on the pastoral issues of what we ministers might say at these times, but she did give us “5 minutes in hell” as she called it. It was basically a debunking of the idea that “hell” is Biblical, whereas in fact she described it as a word used by translators to explain a serious of difficult Hebrew and Greek words.

Three final ideas really struck me about what Paula said:

  • She struggles to use the word ‘spirituality; in it’s common modern usage as fuzzy feelings towards God, as her understanding of the importance of belief in physical resurrection requires her to think in life of our physical body as part of our spiritual relationship with God, and that because of this she thinks we have to take our worship of God with body and with soul seriously (something that the guys at Molten Meditation have I suspect picked up on given their use of space and action – see my previous post);
  • That an essential part of the God who loves us, is that he will punish people; that is, he will pass judgement on the lives we’ve lived – however uncomfortable I find that idea;
  • That actually, at the bedside of a dying friend or parishioner, or comforting the bereaved, it may not matter what our answers to these big questions are; but instead we must hold before ourselves and those we minister to, the words of faith written by St Paul in Romans 8:

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The full talk by Paula Gooder can be downloaded, or bought on CD, here. Paula also has a new book on the subject ‘Heaven’.

If you have experience of taking funerals, bereavement visits, or other expertise in this field, I’d welcome your thoughts and reflections if you don’t mind sharing.

 

A few thoughts… on the passing of a family treasure

3 Musketeers on Wimbledon Common

A few may have noticed that my blogging became rather sporadic before Christmas. It was due in part to a family bereavement, when my husband’s Gran died aged 97. Various things, like clearing Gran’s flat, took a greater priority than proper blogging (except for the odd adventure in the snow!)

In the period running up to Gran’s death, my husband migrated his ramblings from LiveJournal to WordPress and his thoughts and grieving process, which in many respects occurred before Gran died, appear here.

Many of G’s family are not church-goers. However, Gran had been in the past, and from my conversations with her definitely believed in God, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Her husband had been a Reader for many, many years and she had supported him in that ministry. Even before she died, I had been asked by the family if I would therefore be willing to take Gran’s funeral, as it seemed appropriate as the ‘next generation’ of Reader in the family.

And so, at Putney Vale Cemetery on 22nd December 2011 I led the family in their mourning for Gran (Lily Pepper), and committed her to God’s care. This difficult privilege was something that felt very right, but I am aware that I need to reflect further on the doing of it, when Christmas and New Year aren’t getting in the way! However…

G had asked me to use 1 Corinthians 13 as the Bible reading, as for him it was most appropriate to Gran’s character and the example she set him and his brother as children (as she helped to raise them.) And, to complete the circle of memories he started on his blog, he has asked me to post what I shared with the family here:

I was well aware before I ever met Gran, or the rest of the family, that she was regarded as the family treasure. It was something to do with the way Graham spoke of her, and spoke of the way that everyone treated her. I wasn’t wrong,and i’ve never changed my opinion.

Gran did “love”, by the (snow) shovel-full. Adam has already shared with us about the sacrifices she made, her stamina and her character as the antithesis of a Mother-in-law. But “love” does not take pride in itself, but in the successes of others – and Gran always took pride in what members of the family achieved: Elizabeth to university and The City, Marion her nursing, then both Graham and Michael as they moved through school, to university and successful teaching careers. She was always there for them both when they came home from school, cup of tea and cake at the ready.

Real “love” is often grown through a simplicity of life and outlook, and follows through the tough times as well as people’s successes, and Gran’s story is testament to that picture: She was born Lily Hudson, in East Ham, London where her father was a lighter-man on the River Thames and her mother stayed at home to raise the children, Bert, Charlie, herself and her sister May, who sadly died of TB.

When last we spoke at length, appropriately over a bacon and avocado bap with chips at the Windmill on the Common, Gran talked of their simple up-bringing, playing on the roads that were dirt tracks, games like “knock down ginger”, and watching the cricket on the playing fields behind their terraced house until they were chased off by the groundskeeper! She also remembered weekends walking the bank of the Thames to Barking, and was a good swimmer.

Lily married Jim in April 1939 (April 22nd) with whom she enjoyed ball-room dancing, amateur dramatics and rambling. During The Blitz, they were bombed out of East Ham, moving to Harrow where the girls were born. Jim was a travelling salesman, and when Marion was 3 they moved to Parkstone on the south coast, and later into Bournemouth. As well as raising Elizabeth and Marion, she nursed first Jim’s mother, then her own till their deaths, and also found time to support Jim in his church commitments as a Reader, and play the piano for activities like family carol singing before Midnight Communion.

Together they eventually returned to London, and made a home in Viewfield Road, Southfields. Lily worked as a Registrar at Wandsworth Town Hall, and frequently told the story of having “married the butcher” for which service she always received a discount off her shopping. She was always busy, undertaking civil wedding ceremonies for many Jews and Catholics in the community, before they were able to have their own faith ceremonies recognised as legal marriages.

In later life they were able to afford and enjoy several cruises, and also visited her brother Charlie in South Africa, but after Jim’s death in September 1979, Marion and Dave moved to the house with their boys. As they grew up Gran was able to enjoy coastal walks and holidays with Marion and although she had many friends, her main focus was always the family.

Living in the converted garage as she did, she was a quiet, encouraging companion to those of us that had to learn to live at the rather more hectic conversation speed, and volume, that was shared by the family when all were gathered around her. She was always eager to hear what everyone had been doing. If we dropped a snippet of news into conversation, she’d always say “Go on…?”, eager to have the story or success expanded upon.

There were a wonderful selection of doggy companions including Kimmy, Pat, with whom the boys learnt to play ‘tiggy’, then Beau and then the more refined Jamie-dog the Cavalier King Charles. It was Jamie that assisted with the Christopher-therapy after her stroke, as Gran knocked a ball the length of her living room using the up-turned end of her walking stick, so that either dog, or boy, could retrieve it.

Gran was patient, Gran was kind. She did not envy, or boast in herself, and only showed pride in those who were the treasures of her life. She lived a life that loved, protected and trusted everyone in the family, and she was certainly not easily angered.

It is incredibly difficult, to do justice in a few short minutes to the memories that we all share of someone who brought so much joy and friendship to the lives of her loved ones. Whether they make us smile or cry, we should treasure those memories. We need to make them part of our future as well as our past, in a way that means we can build on the values of love and family life that Gran made the focus of her life.

Love, and sacrifice, was of course the focus of Christ’s activity in this world. His was a love that understood grief – he expressed his own loss and pain with tears. The knowledge that Jesus in his humanity, also cried when faced with difficult situations in both his earthly and eternal family, are a comfort and reassurance for those of us who face these situations today. Jesus’ sacrifice of course led him to death on a cross, and to resurrection and his rightful place with God in glory. We can now be assured that Gran too, has her rightful place with God.

Gran has been a living example of loving sacrifice. Let us hang on to those values, and continue to live by the example that she set, because it is a good one. By following it, we will honour her name, and the importance of our memories.

 

As I called to mind – All Souls

I have to say that preparing my talk for this afternoon’s All Soul’s service was one of the harder things I have had to do so far in ministry. I am indebted to Rosalind both for her comments on my last post, and also the guidance she gave me by email.

Reflecting now on my struggles, I suspect that it was for two main reasons:

  • It felt right to make use of my own emotions at a point of bereavement in my life, and I knew I wanted to focus on the image of feet (my mother’s and Christ’s) – but part of my difficulty was to see a moment in my life that I have until now tended to regard as negative, almost repulsive, in a positive light that would be something that might help others. The result I think is that it has helped me to love my mother more.
  • I was uncertain as to what I understood, or wanted to say theologically speaking. I’m still really not sure what I have said, but I wanted to be sure not only to provide people who have been bereaved with some comfort in the memories heightened by such a service. Knowing that several of them do not have regular contact with church, I also wanted to offer some affirmation that through Jesus the power of death has been broken, and we can hope in a future of love with God and with those who we have lost.

I used readings from Lamentations 3 and 1 Thessalonians 4. The Lamentations reading, is one of comfort that gave me phrases I could hook my talk onto. However, in retrospect I’m not sure the latter was the right reading to chose, but I haven’t yet worked out what I might use on a future occasion.

If you want to read what I finally said it’s here: Service Thanksgiving – Remembering (All Souls 2010) Talk Feel free to comment below if you can spare the time – and remember I will learn most from constructive criticism!

If you want to read a story that someone else used, here is one that Revd Lesley posted this evening, that raised a lump to my throat.

The service also included a poem I found in a book at my father’s. ‘A Psalm of Hope in Bereavement’ written by Jenny Gateau in “Mike’s Story – a Journey of Grief and Grace” published in 1997 by SPCK. In an effort to stick to copyright rules, I’ve not printed it here but I thoroughly recommend both the book and the poem.

Random facts: my mother was called Lesley. Though never wishing to be ordained herself, she was a member of the Movement for the Ordination for Women, travelled to Ripon in 1994 for the first service (I think) where women were ordained to the priesthood, and studied Pastoral Theology at a Catholic theology institute. She died in 1997 before completing those studies.