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?

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Travellers in the community – Gospel opportunity?

Travellers in a local public open space, Yateley, July 2012

Last week we had a small group of travellers take up residence in a field, which happens to be a public open space. As far as I can tell they caused no trouble, (unless you particularly dislike what I think was Elvis being played quite loudly), had no dogs loose that I encountered, and once they left, there remained only tyre tracks (though it is possible the Council may have cleared up, I don’t know).

I have been challenged personally over the last year or so in my pre-conceptions of, and reactions to travellers, gypsies and those of romany origin. I grew up in the 1980’s in Minstead, when my father was involved (through his work in the Forestry Commission) with the ‘Peace Convoy’ on Stoney Cross in 1986. I had also grown up with the stories of his previous work as a policeman in the same area, and the old encampment he used to visit on the edge of the village before I was born. There were other, less law abiding groups he encountered too! I knew these groups to be utterly different, but most had brought with them disruption (of different sorts) to the village, and inadvertently created division in the residential community.

I have not met directly, any of the travellers that pass through Yateley, and I don’t like fairground rides, so don’t visit that either.

I have however met several of our local settled Romany community through my work doing funerals, and baptism preparation at St Peter’s. They have without fail, been welcoming, both to me personally and to talking about their understanding of God. They feel very strongly about having a local Christian minister ‘do the honours’, and a loyalty to their local church that to be honest has surprised me. On each occasion, I sensed a strong link with God in the simple things of life: his creation which they value, and the family ties and traditions they keep so strong.

These points of recent contact and past memories, highlighted for me how easy it is to restrict who it is we regard as belonging to our community, who it is we offer a welcome to, who we are willing to recognise as fellow worshippers of God Almighty, who in fact our neighbour is.

It has also made me enquire into and research how the traveller and Romany communities relate to God, use a lot of Christian symbols in their home, and still are quite particular about returning to a parish church to mark the way-points in life.

As part of the selection process for ordination (Bishops Advisory Panel or BAP) that I have spoken about before, you have to give a short presentation on something that interests you, and which you can relate directly to your experiences of ministry so far. (You then have to lead a discussion about it with your fellow candidates!) I chose to do a presentation “How can the Gospel be ministered effectively and inclusively to our native Romany and traveller communities?” You can download and read it if you wish, but please be aware that I wrote it in a deliberately challenging fashion to provoke discussion: Gospel ministry with Romany and Travellers

In the process of putting that together, I discovered many links and a great book about the life and faith of these people, and I draw them together here in case they are of use to anyone else:

The Pure in Heart: An Epistle from the Romanies by Martin Burrell a truly excellent book (also available in Kindle format).

Pip, a 17 year old Romany boy, writes an Open letter to Channel 4 about Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

Diocese of Ely: Travellers and the Church including a download from Revd Martin Hore “Travellers and the Church – a Christian Response”

Friends, Families and Travellers a website aimed at ending racism and discrimination against the traveller community

Gypsies and Travellers – Why Should Christian’s Care from the Church Network for Gypsies and Travellers

I was, and am, particularly indebted to Simon Martin, Training and Resources Officer at the Arthur Rank Centre (supporting rural communities and churches) and Revd Simon Cutmore (who blogs at Rectory Musings) for their help in pointing me in the direction of these resources as I prepared for BAP.

I think that (probably after ordination training) I will be challenged again in this area, so I would welcome your thoughts, reactions, and experiences.

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.

Wanting to trust the local press – a question to take to #cnmac11

I’m being followed.

For someone who seems to spend rather a lot of time on Twitter, and is a member of the Twurch of England (who have a cool new website), this obviously shouldn’t bother me. It doesn’t. Well, normally it doesn’t. So, why should my most recent follower on Twitter be worrying me, everso slightly?

You see, it’s not so much who he is, or what he does, but what he did. That is what has just niggled at my normally quite open social media conscience.

OK, so he’s a local journalist, a gentleman (I hope in all senses) who until this week I’d never heard of, and who I have never knowingly met. I follow the Twitter feed of the religious correspondents of three major daily papers so it’s not like I’m allergic to the press or anything. In my ‘marketing and communications’ capacity for Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester, I’m actually more inclined to be chasing the press for coverage of something, than being worried about them chasing me.

But, you see three days before following me on Twitter this chap had phoned me up (presumably having got my number off the church office answering machine) wanting details of a funeral that he’d heard was taking place at St. Peter’s this week.

Now, as a Christian, I want to trust people. I want to be open about my faith, and I hope by being open about some of the details of my ministry may help in a small way to improve the public image of Christian ministers. In fact, I’m a fairly trusting sort of girl generally – until experience tells me to be careful.

In this case my experience of what he asked me, led me to question whether I could trust him. ‘Funeral chasers’ horrify me. For me, that counts as intrusion by the local press.

Any ministry to the bereaved is normally totally personal and private unless with their permission they want something about their loved one publicised, or a very public funeral or memorial service is appropriate. (I’ve had one of each of these in the last 18 months, so I know about them too!) Why should the press wish to invade someone’s grief just because they might be ‘different’ or ‘interesting’ in some way?

Twitter, like a blog (which is presumably how this chap found my Twitter feed) is a public conversation. My Twitter conversation often revolves round my ministry, sometimes the funny side of church life, and often I (like many of the Twurch) will refer to the generality of the pressures of ministry, with references like “Three funerals this week… prayers for strength and sensitivity welcome!” (I made that one up btw.) Especially during our recent vacancy when I was responsible for many things to do with funerals and other ‘occasional offices’ I was tweeting about such things because there is a collegiality to the Twurch community that was incredibly supportive when operating slightly ‘solo’ and needing instant, supportive/helpful answers to sometimes daft ministry questions or statements.

It’s just I don’t want to jeopardise my ministry, nor compromise the Twitter community that contributes to how I learn and share as a minister. I also want to have integrity in both my faith and in my pastoral dealings.

Now, it’s taken me 24 hours to consider this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to trust this chap, and I’ve ‘followed’ him back. You see, I actually believe we’re sort of in related businesses – I hope we’re both trying to build community in my home town. That involves sharing news. I’m just hoping that he has the good sense to realise that ‘news’ doesn’t include the spectacle of someone’s private grief, and that he’ll trust me (and others – after all, I’m not the vicar) to share the details of those things that will help us as a community, rather than hurt it.

But it’s left me with a question which I’m going to take to the Christian New Media Conference in 10 days time is this: How much do we risk compromising our ministry by taking it into the public sphere of social media?

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.

 

Farewell to a hidden hero: Geoffrey Hancock CMG 1926-2011

Last month a took a funeral. A quiet affair for a grieving family, which in some ways was like the others I’ve taken over the last year. But in other ways this was different. For I had the privilege of being the first person to acknowledge publicly that Geoffrey Hancock led a double life. He had been for many years, an MI6 officer – a spy!

Last Saturday, The Daily Telegraph published its obituary to Geoffrey Hancock CMG, and his son Frank kindly thought to forward me a copy. He also gave me permission to publish below both my address at his father’s funeral, and the images used on the cover of the service sheet.

Every funeral is different and a privilege, but sometimes the stories that come to light capture my particular interest. This is a case in point: I wish I had known Geoffrey to have seen how ordinary he appeared to be, but I am glad that I had the chance to celebrate that he was in fact a hidden hero. I look forward to the publication later this year of his own memoir of just one year in his life “A Diplomat’s Day”.

My address at Geoffrey’s funeral, which followed his son reading from some of his papers of his flying and sporting adventures, was as follows:

We hopefully each have places which make us feel at home, or comfortable. They are our roots, an important part of who we are. Often they are places we remember from childhood. For example, I like to return regularly to the woods and heaths of the New Forest. For Geoffrey, his roots included this village of Yateley, as it still was in his childhood, and as it remained during Frank and Katya’s childhood visits here.

There may also be specific things which give us a sense of connection with our past, or give a sense of peace with the present difficulties of life. It might be a relationship with a spouse or a friend, or with some significant poem or reading, like those we are sharing in at this service. It can even be an activity like flying, or playing a musical instrument. These are the things that are important to us.

When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment, he took his listeners back to the roots of their faith, to the first five books of their scriptures. Jesus, a man with scary new ideas that involved his followers taking risks with the authorities of religion and occupation, encouraged them to rely for inspiration on the core elements of their inherited faith – their relationship with God, and with their fellow man. Those, he said, were the most important relationships of all, the things that would offer people a consistency in their lives that would motive all their actions.

Having a Christian funeral in a place that had been a stable and repeated resting place in his early life was important for Geoffrey; things which he specifically requested. Although he was a man who moved in a world of many faiths, and who had huge respect for those of other faiths, it was the Christian faith which sustained him, and to which he turned when opportunity and retirement allowed.

Jesus was someone who would have offered something to which he could always turn, whatever the situation he found himself in. He would also have been someone whose risk-taking was something that Geoffrey would have recognised!

Talking to Frank the other day, and looking at the reading chosen for this service (Mark 12 v28-34), it struck me that Geoffrey’s work, over many decades, formally and informally, not only required him to take risks, but also required other characteristics.

To lead a properly double life, the extent of which was hidden from even his most loved ones, to serve his Queen and his country, to make snap judgements, to ‘pull strings’ for the benefit of people other than himself, involved self-sacrifice. Creating the physical transport connections from invisible relationships that took people to safety in situations like Beirut in 1976 involved a humility of spirit that had to accompany the fact that his actions could not be acknowledged.

It may be that you will remember, or perhaps have been part of, some of the stories of risk and adventure that filled Geoffrey’s life.

More particularly, I hope that each of you will also recognise the role you have as being part of his roots, perhaps as members of his family, the loved ones to whom he could return with some honesty when the wider world allowed, or to whom he liked to talk at length in later life, despite the generational differences, the miles and his failing health.

It may be that the true connections in Geoffrey’s life between his faith, his ‘work’, and his hobbies will never be fully understood by anyone else because of the nature of the life he led. But although that has been a difficult tension with which each of you has probably lived, it is worth remembering that whatever was withheld was done out of love for you, and humility in his relationships with others. It is always incredibly difficult to do justice, in one short service, to the memories that family, friends, colleagues and associates share of someone who was an important part of their lives. With Geoffrey that is even more true, because of the scope and nature of his life. I am therefore glad that there will be a second opportunity at some point in the future to remember him, the relationships he built with self-sacrifice, humility and risk, and the impact he had on the wider world.

But today is special, because it is, in this life, a personal farewell. As you remember those things that made Geoffrey who he was, his roots, his faith, the risks and the humility – whether they make you smile or cry, treasure those memories and share them with each other. Above all else, let them be part of your future as well as your past, in a way that means you can build on those same attributes and values.

As you continue your own lives, be sure in the knowledge, that whatever the physical struggles of his last few years of life, Geoffrey is now released from them and at peace in the presence of a God he has served as faithfully as any earthly ruler.

I’m not sure that there are many risks in heaven, but it is surely where we have our roots; a place where as Christians we are finally and fully in the presence of the God who has been constantly at our side and knows more than anyone else our true character and the nature of our lives here on earth.

And I wonder if, even now, Geoffrey is there, sharing the true tales of the exploits of risk, sacrifice and humility that he has shared with Jesus, the rooted risk taker, and humble servant of us all.

On the inside cover of the service sheet was the following poem, from an anonymous source:

A handsome young airman lay dying,
And as on the tarmac he lay,
To the mechanics who round him came sighing,
These last dying words he did say;

Take the cylinder out of my kidneys,
Take the connecting rod out of my brains,
Take the cam shaft out of my backbone,
And assemble the engine again.



			
					

Counting #myblessings of comfort – pillows and cushions

Late in evening and my first chance to sit at the computer. Today, the busy life of a lay minister and Mothers’ Union member has included an MU Trustees meeting, and juggling the needs of several grieving families in the local community as I help them prepare for funerals in the coming couple of weeks.

But it’s never too late to Count Your Blessings! When funerals are uppermost in my mind, I think of the comfort that Jesus brought through being there with people in their need and distress, the peace he brought with healing to people’s lives, the words and prayers to his Father in heaven that changed people’s lives. If I can bring a tiny measure of Jesus’ comfort to people’s lives, even if (as tonight) it helps people to cry as they mourn a loved one, then I feel that my ministry is doing something useful in Jesus’ name.

Our son (then 9) on his comfortable bed near Kampala!

And yet in today’s world, “comfort” is a word that has almost lost it’s meaning and value. Comfort today seems more related to our physical state than our peace of mind; more about the cushions on our sofa, the pillows and duvets on our beds, than anything else.

When I visited the Family Life Programme in Uganda (for which the Mothers’ Union ‘Count Your Blessings’ is raising funds) I wasn’t taken into a bedroom, but I was proudly given a cooked meal of goat, sat on a cushion in the corner of the house. I suspect I had the only cushion, being the honoured guest from England! In the home we stayed in near Kampala where our hosts were quite well off, we were very comfortable – we each had a pillow, a sheet and a mosquito net!

But it was the faith of all those Christian’s so wonderfully working in the name of their Lord to better the lives of those in their communities through Mothers’ Union projects, that was the biggest comfort of all.

Here at home I have loads of pillows and cushions, some with covers I’ve tapestried or knitted, others on which to simply lay my head at night. At 10p a pillow or cushion I think I’ll be putting a couple of pounds in the kitty tonight!

Funerals and liturgy as God’s basket for people’s grief

I’m not sorry that funerals are becoming a rather large part of the focus of this blog, because it reflects one of the main elements of my workload at present, and the privilege I feel at being asked to do them as a representative of the local church. So I thought I’d do a bit of ‘reflective practitioner’ stuff that’s been brewing for weeks.

Until last autumn we didn’t have many funerals. There are some historic reasons for this, including poor management at the local undertakers (now thankfully changed and much, much better), and an incumbent with too much to do. Until last year, he had no Readers/LLMs to help develop the ministry he recognised as being important to our role as a parish church, but felt powerless to support it single-handed on top of all the other things he was meant to be doing. (He may well read this blog, so he can correct me if I’m wrong.)

Together with one of my fellow Readers we were planning to develop this ministry, when our vicar left for pastures new. It seemed right to carry on our plans for development anyway with the support of local deanery clergy, and then we had the sudden focus of that Royal Marine funeral I keep banging on about. It has had a huge impact on my ministry, but it also raised the awareness of both our fellowship and the wider community to this important part of parish ministry in the CofE.

Since Christmas the two of us committed to taking funerals have been kept surprisingly busy, both with funerals for members of the congregation, and with the funerals of those who want a Christian Minister to take the service (whether in church or crematoria). It has also become the focus of various people’s blog posts (at least Clayboy here and here, and Always Hope here) and some of my reading.

Reaching out with the Christian gospel should be key to our Christian lives, individually and corporately. Alongside taking funerals, I’m also involved in baptism preparation, and I would say that from what I have seen so far, people attending a funeral are far more likely to engage with the Christian nature of the service (wherever it is) than they are as guests at a baptism. I believe it is the elements of ‘need’, and perhaps ‘confusion’ as well as raw emotion which are present at a funeral, that makes this the case.

Families being visited before a funeral are more likely to accept, and be relatively comfortable with being prayed with and for, than they are at a baptism preparation visit.

However, my current practice is not to ‘preach the gospel’ extensively at a funeral. The deanery clergyman that trained me suggested it wasn’t appropriate, and I happen to agree; but that doesn’t mean that the gospel and the love of the Lord Jesus for the bereaved is not shared during the service.

Whatever the deceased’s understanding of God (through the eyes of their relatives) I’m trying to do two things when I create a funeral service:

  • I try to find some connecting point between the life of the deceased, the values they seemed to emphasise by what they did during their life, and the example of Jesus in the Bible. For example, those for whom family life was a high priority gives me the chance to emphasise Jesus’ love for all; if the deceased made many sacrifices for others, or gave a lot of time to help other people, then that too is a relatively easy link to the example and teaching’s of Jesus. This usually happens in a couple of sentences towards the end of whatever sermon/eulogy/thoughts I’m able to give.
  • I take the time to work through the options in Common Worship and select and adapt the prayers to reflect the person, the degree of loss the family feel, and the circumstances of the death, within the wider gospel message – it’s like the liturgy is the basket that holds the grief of those present, a basket that is held by God.

I have discovered that putting together and taking a funeral service, is probably the most creative act in worship terms that I am able to do as a minister that is solely down to me (and God of course). The process of doing it provides me with some of the times in a week when I am closest to God.

All this takes time. At present I reckon, that including visiting the bereaved, the admin and conversation with the undertakers, perhaps conversation with parishioners who knew the deceased, and interestingly sometimes the florist (ours are members of the church and I find pick up on bits about a family that I might miss at a visit), each funeral takes out a whole day of my life, before I actually take the service. No wonder over-stretched clergy with no other ministerial support are not able to make more of such needs and opportunities!

However, I believe it’s vital time, well spent! If you’re an minister with experience of taking funerals, how do you approach the process of taking the Gospel into people’s place of grief?

Unpacking this silent woman

Feeling a little like this overloaded sugar cane lorry (Uganda 2006) whose axils were going

I’ve got 40 minutes before I go to prepare for the 3rd funeral I will have taken since New Year. For the stipendiary minister that might not seem like a lot, but since Gran’s was my first completely solo effort and marked by my last post exactly a month ago, it feels like an awful lot.

As I try and return to bloggin’ I shall reflect on that, but first I thought I’d try and unpack my silence, especially given other’s posts over the last month about the dirth of women bloggers (especially in the faith sphere).

I’m flattered that Revd Lesley followed up my tiny tweet, and I’m interested in where my reasons for barely admitting that I blog fit with the theories listed by her as to why more women don’t blog.

1. Women don’t do technology and don’t know how to get on Wikio: well I do ‘do’ technology a bit, but largely due to the technical help and support of many male friends and now fellow members of the Twurch of England. What I have found (e.g. when a female staff member at Mothers’ Union head office phoned me for advice this week on setting up a blog) is that some women find the ‘technical language’ used by men a block to their understanding of how they can achieve things in social media. I’m afraid my technique is to keep asking, and explaining it back to them in my own language until I have a faint idea what to do, or get them to show me 1 to 1. Having said this, I was aware of the Wikio ratings because The Churchmouse, but had never realised I could, or even should consider registering (I haven’t yet, but thanks to Lesley I now know how!)

2. Women aren’t competative and wouldn’t put themselves on Wikio: Thing is I am; competative that is. I admit the sin of watching my blog stats, and the amusement value of discovering that my most popular post ever was last month when I posted the ‘First Time Ever’… I guess most people didn’t expect to see a middle-aged woman sledging! There’s probably a sermon illustration in that somewhere 🙂  However I know my limitations, and I wouldn’t expect to succeed in the way that Lesley Fellows or Maggi Dawn has. My world feels intellectually narrower than theirs but I’m happy to be on the edge of theirs via their blogs.

Ten minutes left…

3. Women are only blogging for themselves: these are the main desires for the blog, if I am to keep it going:

  • to share what there is that I do, that might have some use to others (sermons, reflections, the occasional idea of specific interest)
  • to include people in the journey of faith and ministry I’m taking (current pastoral circumstances are however making this difficult… and I can’t share the details, yet)
  • to ask questions, usually about the practicalities of how to do something – whether that be something technical, something spiritual, or something in a ministerial context
  • to share my news with people who know me, but whom because of my other commitments, or the distance between us, I can’t share it with face to face
  • to have a filing system for ideas and links that I probably don’t note down anywhere else – and this I could do better.
  • Is this blogging for myself? Some of it is.

4. Women are too busy to blog everyday: Yes! But so are most men, and definitely most Christian ministers I know (of either sex). I guess that’s why Twitter and the Twurch appeals it’s a more quick fire share of ideas! I have felt guilty for not blogging in the last month, and doubted the sanity of keeping the blog going at all. But, there have been plenty of things that I wanted to blog, if I’d had the time. If I get back into a rhythm of blogging you may discover what other things have caused me to be silent for a month.

I ran five minutes over. Now off to get the thermals and robes for the latest funeral and burial!

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.