Monday, May 29, 2023

Last Funeral (1)

Before Covid struck, in 2019, a long-standing friend asked me to take the funeral for his wife.  Visiting the family, working on the service, preparing my words was an experience that from one point of view was familiar. All my ministry, visiting the dying and bereaved with responsibility for the funeral and pastoral aftercare was a significant dimension of my work.  This 2019 service with a full church and a large turn out from the regional Guides organization (of whom she had been leader), expressed Christian hope with celebration for her life.

But, from another point-of-view I felt something unfamiliar as though this marked the end of the road for taking funerals.  Sadly, I know that attending them would continue ever more frequently.  Yet, the process of undertaking pastoral responsibility for them seemed too much to bear.  

In January, a friend asked Carol and me to visit him. It was clear that he had something serious to share.  Recently he been diagnosed in the last stage of cancer with only a few months to live.  Deliberately, he did not seek further details about how long.  He would live each day as fully as possible.  And, yes, he asked me whether I would take his funeral.  Perhaps you can imagine my tension, feeling that this aspect of my ministry had closed...yet.

Carol, unawares of this inner tension, which in fairness I had never clearly defined, lovingly answered that she was sure I would.  Those who know Carol will not be surprised at her being spokesman!   Of course, she was absolutely right. 

Through these last months I have been visiting him as he became increasingly frail. On Saturday, surrounded by his family, he died.  As we spent time with his widow and sister yesterday, I recognized the familiarity of praying and preparing, yet also knew the unfamiliarity that this will definitely be my last funeral. 

It will be a big funeral.  Robin Page is a local controversial character with a national profile. I need to share some more details about his action-packed life in another post. He truly added to our lives. So, importantly prayers and love go out to his family at this sad time. But this moment in my life has brought me to a whole set of  pastoral reflections. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Coronation connection.

The coronation of King Charles III on the previous weekend with all its pomp and circumstance had some highlights including the child's welcome in the name of 'children of the Kingdom', and the stress on not being served but serving others.  The Archbishop's message emphasized the same theme very effectively.  As is true of so many of us living in the UK, we have many differing views which we have shared these last few days since.

But imagine my surprise when my daily devotion began on the Monday after the coronation with the story of King Solomon with headings to readings in 1 King's chapters 1-4:  Coronation Day, Walking in Faithfulness, Good Governance for all, Long to reign over us. Each section resonated not only with details of the anointing (with Zadok the priest given prominence in 1 Kings, and later by Handel) but several of our current aspirations as a new reign begins.

What astonished me most was that this choice of Scripture, with its commentary work, was commissioned from a writer of Encounter notes over a year before we had any idea of King Charles' coronation.  Indeed, I was asked several weeks ago to write some notes for early 2025!  18 months away!

One of the delightful aspects of working on spiritual tools is the way that sometimes (and it is only sometimes) they connect so dramatically and appropriately. God's word strikes current affairs.  However, we should remember that His word is living and open hearts and minds should always hear his voice when the immediate connection is far from clear. Prayerful listening will always find personal relevance.