Touching places

I have just heard a news report that doesn’t surprise me. Apparently we are running out of space in cemeteries. I have often wondered about that when driving past cemeteries and graveyards. We have a finite amount of space and an increasing need for it.

When I was younger I used to think that cemeteries were creepy places. Most of us tend to avoid them or ignore them because they remind us of our mortality or of loved ones who have died. But I have realised that they are also special places that cherish memories and honour people. They are places of sadness and loss but also provide a touching place with the eternal.

I have had the same experience with funerals. When I was training at the vicar factory aka Spurgeon’s College I dreaded the idea of taking a funeral. I tried not to think about it but when I did I wondered if I would be able to cope with the sadness. I thought that they would be overwhelmingly desperate occasions and did not want to take any.

But when I started in my first church my wonderful colleague, friend, mentor and Senior Minister, David, showed me what a privilege it is to take a funeral service. He explained how the Minister’s role is to be a touching place with the eternal for grieving relatives and friends. He taught me the value of leading a service that enables people to say ‘goodbye’ in a positive way. He helped me to realise that it is one of the most profound services that we are asked to lead – enabling people to grieve and celebrate the life and memory of someone precious.

I hope and pray that I am able to serve people in that way. And I hope and pray that whatever solutions the government come up with about the cemetery space shortage will also have the same outcome.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the end

Today marks my last day ‘at work’ until almost the end of August. It also marks the last of my daily bloggages until then. This is not because I intend to stop reflecting but because I will not necessarily be within reach of a machine or internet connection with which to write the bloggerel that you consume. I intend to write a few bloggages as I go along (internet connections allowing), and also hope to write a few in advance and schedule them to appear at different points during my absence.

golf hole

So the pressure’s on to make this one a good one. Is it just me, or do you also feel an added pressure when you come to doing the last of something. I like to swing golf clubs in the general direction of a golf ball (in the hope that they will go in the direction I am aiming) and find that when I am at the driving range I want to make sure I hit the last ball well, or when I am playing the last hole on a course I want it to be a good one. If you are in show-business (amateur or professional) do you try to ensure that your last performance in a run is the best? Maybe at work you try to make sure that you finish well at the end of each day or at the end of a week.

I think it is because the last thing we do stays with us for a while and we want to have a feeling of satisfaction and contentment that comes from having finished well. I can happily forget a lot of sliced golf shots if I have hit the last shot well or played the last hole well.

Finishing well is important for all of us, not just in our daily life but in all that we do. This is one reason why it is such a privilege and blessing to lead and take part in funeral services and thanksgiving services. In those difficult times we have the opportunity to remember, to give thanks and to be uplifted by a good finish to a person’s life. When I was training to be a Minister I was terrified about the idea of taking a funeral. It seemed so morbid and sad. It seemed such a gloomy thing to have to do. But now, having conducted quite a few services, I find it a real blessing to be involved in them because they provide a good finish to someone’s life.

It’s even more of a blessing and encouragement if that person was a follower of Jesus because we know that death is followed by resurrection.

So what will you do well today? How are you finishing?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

In my first church the Senior Minister and I were meeting together when our caretaker, a formidable lady, came in to see us. It was the start of the year and she came in to ask for the dates of all the weddings and funerals for the coming year.

“Certainly Betty,” said David, opening his diary, “When would you like us to book you in for your funeral?”

>dearly beloved…

>When I was training to be a Minister I dreaded the idea of taking funerals. I could not imagine myself doing so. It all seemed so morbid and dark. But in my first church I had the privilege of serving alongside a brilliant Minister, David Richardson. He taught me so much about being a Minister, and with such grace and humility. One of the things I learnt from him was that taking funeral and thanksgiving services is a blessing and a privilege. And he was right.

Over the next few weeks I am participating in several funeral services. What I have discovered is that it is a considerable privilege to accompany people at a time of deep sorrow and grief, to articulate some of their thoughts at a time when they feel unable to say themselves, the blessing of creating a service that is an opportunity to give thanks for the life of the individual who has died, remember them fondly and appropriately, offer comfort, solace and hope and say goodbye. Of course I do not take funerals for my own benefit, but my attitude to them is diametrically opposed to when I was training.

Sometimes people say to me that they could never take a funeral. What I find is that God gives me the words to say, he gives the strength to say them and he gives the grace to those who are listening to find comfort and strength through the service.

That’s the case whatever circumstances we face. If we trust him he will provide what we need. He will be there with us by his Spirit, he will use us – sometimes despite our deficiencies, sometimes because of them. Miraculously God will use us to be a blessing to others if we are willing to allow him to. But sometimes we have to step beyond what we feel we can manage on our own to experience this.

Take a risk. Be a blessing.

Funeral joke – if you can face it:
There was an elderly man at home, upstairs, dying in bed. He smelled the aroma of his favourite chocolate chip cookies baking. He wanted one last cookie before he died. He struggled down the stairs and crawled into the kitchen where his wife was busily baking cookies.
With his last remaining strength he crawled to the table and was just barely able to lift his withered arm to the rack on which the cookies were cooling. As he grasped a warm, moist chocolate chip cookie, his favourite kind, his wife suddenly whacked his hand with a spatula.

Gasping for breath, he asked her, “Why did you do that?”
“Those are for the funeral.”