In addition to the traditional Requiem for All Souls every year, we hold a special service during the closest weekend to that commemoration, to which we make a point of inviting all those families with whom we've had contact through funeral ministry over the preceding 24 months. The service is deliberately "church lite", using some wonderful prayers by Dorothy McRae-McMahon. We avoid the pain of waiting to hear "your" name read out, by reading the names only at the Requiem itself, but there's space, silence, singing and, of course, the opportunity to light a candle. I always talk about the many different losses we experience - not just the death of loved ones, but failed relationships, unemployment, leaving one home for another...and it's always a very special service. This years took place this afternoon, and it was, as always, such a joy to see the families I've worked with, a few months down the line from the immediacy of their loss. Of course, some are finding it easier than others. Some find just being in church extraordinarily hard, but, bless their courageous hearts, they stick with it anyway, and, to my joy, seem to find it a genuinely safe space to be themselves with their grief before God.
I love this service, just as I love the All Souls Requiem, and am constantly baffled by those colleagues who really don't find funeral ministry rewarding. For me it is the greatest privilege - and this is emphasised when funeral families choose to allow me to continue to share their journey for a while.
Here's what I said to them today.
have been in the news of late. This past week, of course, we've
watched the devestation caused by hurricane Sandy...while just a
couple of weeks ago came the 25th anniversary of our own
autumn hurricane...I remember it so well, as my daughter was just a
few months old, so I was up several times that night – though to my
amazement, when London's power went down and 100s of burglar alarms
went off, the baby slept through the whole thing.
of course, came the analysis of damage – to cars and buildings,
obviously, but also to many many acres of woodland right across the south
of England. The
storm was indiscriminate about which trees it felled and which were
spared. A lone 600-year-old yew survived, as did giant coastal
redwoods and a massive copper beech. But whole plantations and giant 200-year-old oaks
fell like matchsticks.
whole landscape was changed beyond recognition and there was much
lamentation. Many conservation bodies rushed to replant and clear
up...They wanted to get back to normal as quickly as possible – but
the truth was that things were never going to be the same again, and
in other areas, this just couldn't be managed. Woodland stayed
exactly as the trees had fallen – with surprising results.
place of dark woodland with closed canopy, came sky, new vistas and
the wild wood is full of life with muntjac, roe and fallow deer,
green woodpeckers and wild flowers growing in the glades created by
the storm. The rotting beech and oak trunks have become seedbeds for
foxgloves and brambles. In another 20 years the trunks will provide
the soil that will sprout lines of young trees.
regenerates in ways that will always amaze us.
what is true of nature is true of people too...
of you is here because you've faced great storms in your life.
Landscapes have been changed forever,as you've faced the reality of
loss and death. Nothing IS the same as it was but nonetheless, if you
can lift your eyes you may see the first signs of hope and
get up and dress every day. You eat, even if you don't much feel like
it. You have not turned your face to the wall, but chosen to
live...and gradually, though not as quickly as you might like, the
balance of dark days and light will begin to change for you.
may not yet have reached the stage of seeing sky, new vistas and new
ideas – but with God's help that WILL come.
may feel as if you are barely beginning to move forwards...but wait,
may still feel that the sadness of loss is your strongest reality,
but that sadness is a sign of love, which you know is truly stronger
love is God's gift to us, the thing that makes us human, the source
not only of our suffering but also of our greatest joy.
you continue to explore the new landscape of your life, try to notice
those signs of new things growing...Perhaps family relationships are
stronger now, perhaps you are learning to do things for yourself that
you had never imagined.
if you feel that you are like one of those trees felled by the
storm...be patient. Come close to God and ask for his help, his
comfort. Ask him for those gifts we sang about "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow" Tell him how you feel, how hard the days are, and let him
wipe the tears from your eyes as he shows you the truth of his