Four years ago, as a newish curate at St M's, WonderfulVicar encouraged me to devise a service of remembrance and thanksgiving for those with whom we'd had contact via funeral ministry...I appealed for help in naming it on this very blog and it was John, I believe, who came up with the title "Journey On".
Fast forward to autumn 08 and I find myself responsible once again for deciding how best to mark this season of rememberings. Past custom here had included lists of names read out, but that seems to me to place an extra burden on the bereaved...to sit there, in an unfamiliar environment, nerving yourself for the one name which you both long and dread to hear, the name that has lead to your being there in church at all...I don't think I could stomach it, and I'm an insider.
So, I decided that we would do a proper Eucharist and Commemoration of the Departed on Monday, All Souls day itself, (a service aimed at the more comfortably "churchy"), and also a list-free alternative, with candles, space and silence for those who wouldn't normally turn to the church for comfort and consolation. I decided that, as I'd produced the St M's original, if there were any copyright it was probably mine, so I lifted title and content pretty much unchanged. The plan was to write to all those with whom we'd had contact through funerals, though this proved quite challenging in itself, as during the vacancy a wide variety of clergy had provided funeral cover, so that it proved possible only to track down those families who had actually had a service in church...Those which were crematorium only (a high percentage, if recent months are a guide) seemed to be untraceable. However, I sent out several dozen letters, smiled as sweetly as I could at the wonderful cake-making ladies of the social committee and then left it all with God, having no idea how it might work here.
In percentage terms, I guess the turn-out was not wonderful.
In terms of needs met and appreciation expressed, this afternoon's service was remarkable.
Around 30 people appeared, sang, prayed, cried and lit candles.
The choir, bless them, had agreed to turn out to lead the singing and their presence provided something even more important - a sense that these families and their loss mattered to the whole church family.
Over tea afterwards, one lady told me that "she wouldn't have missed it for the world" and two or three said that they used to be part of the church family and weren't quite sure why they had stayed away for so long.
Maybe, just maybe, a positive experience this afternoon will encourage them to visit again sometime. If nothing else, they know that we're still here for them...that the church goes on caring...that dark winter evenings need not always be lonely.