If you ever find yourself talking to a priest about their job and ask them what aspect of their work they love most, the chances are you won’t wait long before they rather apologetically mention funerals.
I have to say, I’m another enthusiast for these opportunities to stand beside a family in the torrents of love and grief and honesty, and try and find ways to help them process all of that...to light a candle of hope amid the sadness...to offer a reminder of God’s love stronger than everything in creation. It’s holy ground and I’m always conscious of the privilege of walking there.Yet more precious are those times when I’ve been with a friend in the last stages of their journey, and together we have worked out the whole heart-breaking but hope-filled business of saying goodbye. Recently I’ve trodden that path through long months of decline with a beloved friend and priest, and together we found comfort in the worlds of Thomas More “Pray for me as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven”. Wendy loved prosecco and I opened bottle and raised a glass to her on her birthday, which fell just a few days after her death this month, as I reflected on the bubbles of resurrection joy she would now be experiencing til next we meet...
Equally, I’ll never forget the words that Pat, a dear lady in my last parish, left to me “I'll see you later...” she said “Here or there”
Let me explain. Some years ago, before I came to Coventry, I was at a training event – and sitting at the same table as my then Bishop. I wasn't very pleased with him that day. Not long before he had refused to publicly affirm something that mattered a great deal to me – and I was planning to air my disappointment with him in the course of the event. Only very early on, as an illustration of something (I can't remember what) we were asked to give something we valued to someone else around our table to look after for the rest of the day. And so it was that I found myself wearing Bishop Michael's episcopal ring for a few hours.
As I read those words and realised that for Bishop Michael they would be non-negotiably present whenever he caught sight of his hand, at any moment on any day, I understood just HOW heavy the ring really was – and how heavy the burden on our bishops to be a focus of unity within the church. Every day they are confronted with the need to make Jesus's high priestly prayer a reality – while the members of the churches they serve seem intent on ignoring it as much as possible. For a little while that day I was able to put aside my own anger and disappointment that +Michael had not fallen in with my particular agenda as I recognised his role in calling us back to the over-riding agenda that Jesus placed before us in his farewell discourse.
real people, with names, lives, joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs just like our own. I think we sometimes forget or ignore this. It is easier to deal with an issue than a real person...to keep our distance from the unfamiliar by drawing lines to exclude and to reassure ourselves that WE are right, approved of, accepted, in control. That’s why I believe that our Cathedral’s Litany of Reconciliation is important...It doesn’t pray “Father forgive THEM” as it catalogues the ways in which we harm one another and the planet. Instead it says “Father forgive” - recognising that there is no “them” and “us” - that we all alike mess up and need forgiveness. That life is not designed to be a contest, or an expression of a binary universe where if I am to win, someone must lose, if I’m to be included someone must be excluded…Both/and, rather than either/or, is the message, even as the divisions of our lives seem sharper and wider than ever.
He doesn't pray for tolerance, for smoother relations between factions...